A lotta words for ‘death’ and ‘dying’.

The phrase tsuutsuu turns up several times in Buchanan’s story of the Five Grizzly Bears (a story I will eventually put up on the blog, but I have work to do yet comparing it to other Coos/Siuslaw and Alsea versions of the story).  It is always translated in the passive voice – ‘he was killed’.  Turns out, this word is not derived from one of the usual words used for ‘to die’ – but is likely taken from another verb and is a bit metaphorical.

It’s not surprising that a language might have several metaphors for words about death and dying.  Some cultures are more uneasy than others about accidentally invoking bad luck with ill-considered words.  Or people use metaphors to try and deflect some uneasiness or grief.

In Hanis, the word eqe (Milluk: eq) means both corpse and is sometimes used as a verb meaning ‘to die’.  Other words and phrases  for corpses are hlehlax (Milluk: hlehl) which literally means ‘medicine’, and hla’isiiya which literally means ‘she/he has gone’.  Clearly none of these are the source for tsuutsuu.

laqauwa is the usual Hanis verb for ‘to die (Singular subject); also the verbs tsxaw- (to kill, single object; to put down, to be in a lying position) and aiw- (to kill, plural object; to die, plural subject) are sometimes used to mean either ‘to kill’ or ‘to die’.  aya, which usually means ‘lost’ or ‘gone’ is also occasionally used to mean ‘to die’.  Of all these words, tsxaw- might be the derivation of tsuutsuu, but as it turns out there is yet one more verb for ‘to die’.

tsxuu- usually means to lie down, to rest.  But sometimes it is used to mean ‘to die’.  During the Yachats Agency years (1860-1876) Bob Creek (a lovely beach wayside about 4 miles south of Yachats) was nicknamed by the Hanis speaking people as qanchuuye’me tsxuuwiich or qanchiiwa’me tsxuu, meaning ‘Alsea-person lying down place’ because once when some Coos Bay people passed by there they found a dead Alsea man there.  They buried him there, and gave Bob Creek this rather morbid nickname to memorialize that event.  

tsxuu- is the closest to tsuutsuu  and so is likely the source for this phrase.  And, I wonder if we could go back in time we wouldn’t find that tsxuu- (to lie down) and tsxaw- (to die) ultimately come from the same roots.

About shichils

Just sharing some fun on language
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2 Responses to A lotta words for ‘death’ and ‘dying’.

  1. Anthony Grant says:

    I’d be surprised if those last words weren’t related. Alternations between short vowel and /w/ and a long /uu/ seem to occur in Siuslaw too, I think. Some languages (in Europe too) also distinguish between humans dying and animals dying; Morris Swadesh mentions it in an early article on Chitimacha.

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