skookum

“Skookum” means strong, brave, impressive, fierce, big, and reliable, and can apply to either humans or other animals.

Skookum is a Chinook Jargon word that has historical use in the Pacific Northwest. For example, “skookum house” means jail or prison. “Skookumchuck” means turbulent water or rapids in a stream or river, “chuck” being Chinook Jargon for water, stream or lake. It is a common place name in British Columbia, Washington and Idaho.

“Skook” is a short form used with personal names, for example: Mount Skook Davidson in northern British Columbia and Mount Skook Jim, between Pemberton and Lytton. Local lore in any area of British Columbia may have a Skookum Charlie or a Skookum Brown; the most famous of such nicknames was that of Skookum Jim, one of the co-discoverers of the Klondike goldfields in the Yukon.

“He’s a skookum guy” indicates 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 say, “yeah, that’s skookum.” Asking for affirmation, someone might say, “is that skookum with you?” By itself, “Skookum!” can also mean “really awesome, man!”

In mythology, a skookum is a variety of mountain giant or monster similar to Sasquatch or Bigfoot. Skookums were bad spirits or devils of which crows, eagles, owls, blue jays, or other beasts could be representations. They could inhabit people and cause serious illness.

A derivative usage of the skookum-as-monster context was the application of the name to a souvenir Skookum doll, sometimes simply called “a skookum.” The dolls first started being made in 1913 and were popular from the early 1920s until the 1960s. The dolls resembled Native American people and were sold to tourists at trading posts in the western US.

Early dolls heads were made of dried apples with the bodies made of wood and stuffed with either leaves, straw, twigs or grass stuffed in a muslin sack. Later they were made of plastic. Some had jewelry or feathered headdresses. The most common sizes range from about seven inches to about 12 inches tall. They were wrapped with blankets and had only the suggestion of arms.

Skookum is a skookum word!

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