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Evolution in Intertribal Languages

Certain words come into vogue and quickly become cliches, and I’m always glad to see them disappear. In the early 1960s, for example, everybody was using the word copacetic, meaning good, cool, or however a person wanted to describe something as satisfactory. Throughout the 1990s, the word paradigm was used freely and excessively. Now the big thing is issue, to mean problematic. Even my doctor tells me I have various issues with my heart. I’d rather have a problem than an issue. If I am a goner in six months, it is not an issue, it’s a problem, at least to me. Let’s be honest.

Certain words and expressions stay around longer in Indian country, although I’m sure many of those words we used back at Pine Ridge sixty years ago have been forgotten or changed. Even Lakota words change, like the expression husti ("hooshtee"). According to the Lakota dictionary, it is a masculine term expressing disappointment, e.g. “tough luck,” or “too bad.” We would use the term to mean, “Uh-oh, you’re gonna get it.” Back home recently, I heard young people say “hoshteeks,” meaning the same thing.

Why not? We’re human beings, and we evolve, even in language and culture. There seems to be a movement now, at least from what I’m getting in email and Facebook messages, with hilarious new additions to the lexicon of intertribal jargon. Below are some that I’ve seen recently, and I apologize, in advance, for not giving due credit to the excellent mind or minds that created these new terms. Because they come so fast and are forwarded so many times, I wouldn’t know where to find the real authors. Here are a few of the choicest:

Commodify (kah MOD if eye): the uncanny ability of Indian women to convert the ingredients of any standard cookbook recipe to commodity ingredients such as powdered milk, powdered eggs and canned meat.

Skinship (SKIN-ship): the eventual relative connection that all Indian people discover within ten minutes of meeting each other.

Indinferior (IN din FEER ee your): the practice of Indians putting down other Indians for not speaking the language or not being full-blood or not participating in ceremonies or not living on the rez or not wearing braids or not dancing in pow-wows, etc., etc., etc.

Snaggravated (SNAG ra vayt ed): the feeling one gets upon realizing that last night's snag isn't quite as hot in the light of day.

Triballistic (tribal ISS tik): to become irrational and incoherent upon hearing the latest self-serving, short-sighted and illogical decision made by the local tribal council.

Councilmenopause (cown sil MEN oh paws): a disorder characterized by hot flashes, profuse sweating, impaired speech and loss of memory; normally happens to tribal councilmen when cornered by angry tribal constituents.

I’ve created some of my own, although I have to admit that a couple of these are recollections of those told me by friends in the distant past, including Yakama journalist Richard LaCourse and Cherokee attorney Osley Saunooke.

SemiNole (Semee Nole): A mixed-blood freshman at Florida State University.

SkinFlicks (Skin Flix): Indian Pornography.

The Four Skins (Nuff Said): A doo-wop quartet of uncircumsized Sioux.

OklahomeBrew: Number one brand of beer in Anadarko.

WinnaBagel: Kosher frybread.

SiouxShi: Bullheads served raw on commodity rice at Pine Ridge.

LummiTender: An 1960s Elvis Presley hit about his Indian sweetheart.

Penobscotch: Booze served at Foxwood Casino.

The possibilities are endless. I haven’t even touched on Snagriculture, or Sicanguru, or Wannabeasts, or Siouxper egos. You nice readers who might be groaning over those that I’ve created can send me your creations, and we’ll see who’s the more creative.

Meanwhile, have fun, be happy. Osama bin dead and gone, but GERONIMO LIVES ON.

Charles “Chuck” Trimble was born and raised on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, and is a member of the Oglala Lakota Nation. He was principal founder of the American Indian Press Association in 1969, and served as Executive Director of the National Congress of American Indians from 1972-78. He is retired and lives in Omaha, Nebraska. He may be contacted at, and his website is