Long-time residents of British Columbia still toss the adjective skookum into their daily speech, nowadays chiefly as a bit of local linguistic colour.
Skookum means big and mighty in Chinook jargon, a lingua franca, a trading language based on the speech of the Chinook Indians, with words from French, English, Salish, Nootka and other local tongues thrown in as needed. Chinook jargon was used for over a hundred years until the turn of the century by aboriginal peoples and the white traders who plied the Pacific coast. Among some west-coast native peoples, skookum may refer to a big (and therefore evil) spirit force or devil.
Skookumchuck is a town in southeastern British Columbia , where Skookumchuck Creek empties into the Kootenay River.
Skookum = mighty and chuk=water or river in Chinook Jargon. Together the roots can mean ‘white water rapids.’ The word skookum came into Chinook Jargon from the Chahalis language where skukm meant ‘powerful, brave, or large.’
The Chinook jargon word for water chuk came from Nuu-chah-nulth language where ch’a’ak is water. Another very common British Columbia use of this root pops up in the Chinook jargon word for the ocean, saltchuck. It is used in everyday speech to mean the ocean or any body of salt water like an ocean inlet or bay.
By itself too, chuck is used in informal language especially on the northern Pacific coast of North America as a colorful localism for any extensive body of water: a big lake, a fjord-like inlet of the ocean, and so forth.
The adjective produced nicknames like Skookum Jim, one of seven men who discovered gold at Bonanza Creek on August 17, 1896 , at the start of the Klondike Gold Rush.
Skookum-house was a synonym for a jail on the Pacific coast.
Skookum tumtum meant a strong, brave heart. Tumtum was the sound of the heart beating, not a reference to the English nursery word for stomach.
Heehee tumtum was a merry heart.
Sick tumtum meant one was sad.
Should you require proof that skookum remains an operative term, know that “Skookum” has recently been borrowed as the name of an online manga comic strip. Manga is the Japanese word for comics. Manga developed from a mixture of Japanese and Western styles of comic-book drawing, and took its current form in the late 1940s. The “Skookum” manga is sexist and fraught with bodily exaggeration. But manga-maniacs ought to check it out at www.skookumanga.com