Your Chinook Wawa Word of the Day: Hyas

HYAS

[hy-AS']  or [hay-ASH]— adjective, adverb.

Meaning: Big, great, vast, large, auspicious, powerful, important, celebrated, very.

Origin: Possible corruption of Nuu-chah-nulth, iyahish  "many"

While similar in use to the word skookum, hyas generally has connotations of greatness, importance, or auspiciousness rather than outright strength or power.

"Hyas Sunday" was a term for a holiday, like Christmas or Fourth of July, and “hyas mahcook” could mean “a great price” or “something dear”, while “Hyas Tyee” refers to a high chief, a big boss, or even a king. This was also the common title used for the famous chiefs of the early era, such as Maquinna of the Nuu-chah-nulth First Nation.

The word can also be applied to size, such as “hyas wawa” (to shout), "hyas ahnkutte" (a long time ago), “hyas stick” (big tree/log; big/great woods/forest), or “hyas lamonti” (the high mountains).

One might exclaim "okoke house yaka hyas” (that house, it is large) upon seeing a  "hyas house" (mansion), and it would not be unexpected to find a large "hyas tick-tick” (clock) inside. It could even be duplicated for emphasis, such as in “hyas hyas lamonti” (the deep mountains; remote faraway mountain country).

In addition to its use as a general term for size, hyas could also be used to mean "very" or "very well", in which case it usually comes in front of the word or phrase it is modifying, such as “Hyas tenas” (very small) or "hyas kloshe" (very good), as in "hyas yaka mamook wawa Chinook lalang" (they can speak Chinook very well) or "nika hyas ticky klatawa" (I very much want to go).

The word also appears as “hyas hyas stone illahee, meaning the "greatest and biggest land of stones", or "the great barren high country" in Paul St. Pierre's novella Breaking Smith Quarter Horse. The context of the title is the vast and diverse inland alpine areas of the Coast Mountains, flanking the Chilcotin region of British Columbia where the action of the novella takes place.

The expression ‘High muckamuck’ or “High Mucketymuck’ is a corruption of “hyas muckamuck”, meaning "one who sits at the head table", i.e. an official, a bigshot, or a VIP. In modern blue-collar usage, this word is one of many mildly sarcastic slang terms used to refer to bosses and upper management.

Some scholars of Chinook Wawa believe that the words “hyas” and “hiyu” share the same origin and only one or the other may have been known or used in certain areas or periods.