Your Chinook Wawa Word of the Day: Tenas


[TEN’-as]  — adjective.   [ten’-AS] or [dun’-US] (Grand Ronde pronunciation) noun.

Meaning: Small; few; little; lesser; weak; young; a child; a youth

Origin: From Nootka Jargon taná(s) ‘child, little’ < Nuu-chah-nulth t’an’ais ‘child’

The opposite of ‘skookum’, ‘hyas’, and ‘hiyu’ in differing contexts. In the Lower Columbia and Grand Ronde Chinuk-Wawa, the distinction between ten’-as and dun’-us (not GR spellings, just approximations of pronunciations) is between ‘small/little’ and ‘child/young’.

Photo by Martha Boers.

Photo by Martha Boers.

In some usages, “tenas” means ‘child’, as in “mokst nika tenas” (I have two children) and is used to describe youths as either “klootchman tenas” (girl; young woman)  or “tenas man” (boy; young man), but these terms could be used in some cases to mean ‘daughter’ and ‘son’ respectively. These titles were also extended to describe a “tenas yaka tenas” (grandchild), like a “tenas yaka tenas klootchman” (granddaughter) or a “tenas yaka tenas man” (grandson). It was also extend to mean the young of any living creature, such as “tenas puss-puss” (kitten).

The word can be used to describe the “hyas tenas” (very small) version of something, as evident in “tenas house” (hut), “tenas labal” (bullet) and “tenas lop” (string; cord), or can denote quantity, as in  “tenas hyiu” (a few), “tenas weght” (a little more), or “tenas sitkum” (small half) which is used to describe a quarter or 25% of something. Man, those tickets were amazingly “tenas mahkook” (cheap; inexpensive)! You could say that the discount really caused the price to “chako tenas” (decrease; diminish), though the expresion “mamook tenas” was another way of expressing the same idea.

Geographic features such as a  “tenaschuck” (lake; pond) or a “tenas saghalie illahee” (hill), seasons like “tenas waum (spring) and “tenas cole” (autumn), times of day such as “tenas sun” (early; early morning) or “tenas polaklie” (evening), or recent events, like “tenas ahnkuttie” (recently; a little while ago), and “tenas laly kimta” (a little while after).

While pushing a “chik-chik kopa tenas” (baby stroller) through the park, one might engaging in “tenas wawa” (small talk) by discussing  weather conditions like a pleasant “tenas wind” (breeze; light wind) or mentioning that “tenas snow chako” (a little snow has come). However, if someone you encounter is “tenas sick” (hung over) they are not likely to be very sociable.

Like many words in Chinook Wawa, ‘tenas’ is a very popular place name, with no fewer than 30 locations featuring it as part of their name, chief among these are Tenas Lake (three located in British Columbia, one in Washington, one in Oregon, and one in Alaska) and Tenas Creek (three located in Washington, two in British Columbia, one in Idaho, and one in Alaska).

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