16 April 2014

[pdx] Tri Met Bridge, We Christen Thee … Tilikum Crossing

… and that's the new name.

The word Tilikum (or Tillicum or, if you want to be really correct about it, TilixƏm) is from the Chinuk Wawa, the inter-tribal trade argot spoken by the people of Cascadia before us white folks got here, and, for a time, by many of the white people who got here. Elements of this jargon are still with us today, as I've pointed out before: if you look up the high mucketymuck or if you buy anything from this surf sports company or wondered about the sasquatch, you're speaking Chinuk, pilgrim. A skookum thing, to be sure.

From the TriMet email
Tilikum, which is the closest we can come in the 26-character common Latinate alphabet to writing the word, is a work in the Wawa meaning person or people or family, depending on the context. It survives, perhaps in a deplacé way, as the name of a neighborhood bar in Beaverton along the BHH; the name is rather appropriate, since the greater family in these modern times still, in this area of the world, is as likely to meet in an Oregon dive bar as anyplace else, perhaps, from my experience, more so.

The use of the stereotypical Indian war bonnet seems awkward but I am, at best, an armchair historian. I'll leave the more thoroughgoing analysis to those who put the word anal in analysis. 

Chinuk Wawa shorthand system
date unclear. Based on Duployan
shorthand. Source.
The name entire seems to read Tilikum Crossing: Bridge of the People. The ultimate clause of that sentence can be seen as a translation, and also a tagline, which makes it sound somewhat more appropriate to an adventure movie poster. It's not my choice, nor is it the preference of many others; many of us, including me, hoped it would be named for Kirk Reeves … indeed, it was the popular choice, as The Oregonian's Joseph Rose reported. In his missive to us in the proletariat, sent under the aegis of TriMet, historian Chet Orloff says:
But ok, I know some of you are disappointed and may be thinking of the new name in terms of winning and losing. However, please be reminded the process was not a competition or popularity contest. It was not about lobbying and who has the most clout.
The naming process was very deliberate. Our committee of 10 citizens asked fellow citizens (you) for input -- first, to provide possible names then, second, to comment on the four most meaningful names the committee believed best met the criteria we had established early in the process.  
The criteria (which can be seen in this TriMet blog posting by Mary Fetsch) were, of nature, subjective (history being what it is, I can't really see how it could be anything but), and can, I think it not untoward to point out, argue for anyone's case as it can be against. I know more than a few people who were holding out for Abigail Scott Duniway, whose name also would have been most worthy.

But it is what it is; if there's any salve to the fact that a name was chosen that I may or may not agree with it is that the search and decision was apparently done in good faith – the committee came up with a set of criteria and have appeared to stick to it as close as they could possibly do.

In that, Tilikum Crossing, in that it is a 'bridge of the people' (certainly any gorgeous cable-stayed bridge in the Transit Capital of the World that carries only foot, rail, and bike traffic and no cars reflects an ideal a lot of us Portlanders hope for) is a goodly name, and one I can make a certain sort of peace with.

The version TilixƏm needs some explaining perhaps: See this Soylent News™ article, also by The Rose, which explains the notation. Sadly, he does not call the upside-down e what it is, which is the schwa, but the article is a solid one nevertheless.

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