Skookum at anchor


Oxford Dictionary states that something described as ‘skookum’ is ‘strong, brave or impressive’. The word ‘skookum’ comes from the Chinook Jargon language, which originated as a trade language in the Pacific Northwest, and was spoken extensively in the part of British Columbia from where Erin originates between 1840-1900. As it largely evolved out of the trade brought by the Hudson’s Bay Company to the region, it was oft referred to as the “Hudson Bay language”. The language was constructed as a blend of English, French, Hawaiian and local indigenous dialects, and was used to overcome difficulties arising from the huge variety of backgrounds, history, geography and linguistic differences of those who inhabited the region at that time. By the mid 1800’s there were estimated to be over 100,000 people using the language, though very few fluent speakers remain to date.

In the Wikipedia site for Chinook Jargon it provides the following definition of “Skookum”:

Skookum — The most versatile is skookum, which was used in the Jargon either as a verb auxiliary for to be able or an adjective for able, strong, big, genuine, reliable – which sums up its use in BC English, although there are a wide range of possible usages: a skookum house is a jail or prison (house in the Jargon could mean anything from a building to a room). “He’s a skookum guy” means that the person is solid and reliable while “we need somebody who’s skookum” means that a strong and large person is needed. A carpenter, after banging a stud into place, might check it and decide, “Yeah, that’s skookum”. Asking for affirmation, someone might say “is that skookum” or “is that skookum with you?” Skookum can also be translated simply as “O.K.” but it means something a bit more emphatic.”

The Wikipedia page for the word ‘skookum’ itself adds adjectives to the list: strong, greatest, powerful, ultimate, or brave. A common use of the term in Chinook Jargon was ‘Skookumchuk’ which added the noun ‘chuk’ to the word, which means ‘water’. Thus, ‘strong water’ was used for describing such things as river rapids.

When we were looking for a name for the boat, there were a few factors we wanted to keep in mind:

  1. A word that was easy to pronounce, and a bonus if it was fun to say (which we feel ‘skookum’ is);
  2. A word our daughters could pronounce (tested and true);
  3. A word that sounded like it was spelled, which is of particular importance when announcing oneself over a VHF radio and having to spell it using the International Phonetic Alphabet (ie. ‘Sierra Kilo Oscar Oscar Kilo Uniform Mike’);
  4. Erin preferred a word that sounded more ‘made’ up than a known word of the English language (as she felt so many of those words felt ‘cheesy’ as a name (ie. “Serendipity”, “Floating Dreams” or such the like);
  5. A name that was indicative of from whence we hail (at least, as a family), being the pacific northwest of North America

In addition, Erin paid her way through university working at several National Historic Sites in Canada, one of which was Fort Langley National Historic Site, one of the largest and most important depots of the Hudson Bay Company in the mid-19th century. Erin’s love for that particular period in history is largely tied to her fascination with those considered frontiersman and how that interacted with the millennia-spanning history of the nations’ indigenous first peoples. This interest has been a fine balance between a desire to learn and understand the rich and complex history of the local indigenous populations, with a curiosity for those who departed Europe to ‘explore’ these inhabited nations, and the adventurous spirit they embodied. The idea of using a word that stemmed directly from that interface, which also met all of the above criteria, made ‘skookum’ feel like THE name.