Dear Sir: Concerning the Names and Places column on pronunciation (CG Aug/Sept ‘85):
In the 50 years I have lived within six miles of the village of Pouce Coupe, BC, I have never heard it called ‘POOS-koop’ by anyone who wasn’t clowning. No well-mannered person would ever introduce at a dinner party the contentious, sometimes bitter dispute over its two locally used versions, phonetically rendered as ‘Poos-COO-pee’ or ‘Poos-Coo-PAY’.
I had been briefed before I arrived in 1936 on the derivation of the common Poos-COO-pee version [with no stress at all on the PEE-syllable]. I was sweetly, but firmly, corrected by someone in the official circle at the first social event I attended, only to be recorrected by an “old-timer” in the grocery store. He told me about the old Beaver Indian Chief whose hunting grounds and teepee site were known as POOS-COO-PEE’S PRAIRIE around the whole area near the new village. The “PAY” defenders were positive that the name had something to do with a “cut thumb”. Others objected that the Indian called “Cut Thumb” in Father Morice’s memoirs was an enemy Sikanni Indian who lived across the Rockies near McLeod Lake in 1805.
In 1919, Frank Beaton, the famous fur trader of Fort St. John (whose wife was a Beaver Indian) recorded the name as “Pouce Coupie”. We know, therefore, which he favoured.
In 1879, Dr. George Dawson had rendered it as “Pouce Coupée” in his report to the Geological Survey of Canada and A.R.C. Selwyn, surveyor general of Canada. A literal translation, if the name were really derived from the French, would be “an inch cut off.” In the following editions the feminine “ée” was revised to the masculine ‘é’, referring therefore, to a “thumb.”
Most important of all is the name on a photostat of the official record, which I obtained from the Geographic Division of the federal Surveys and Mapping Branch in Ottawa. It shows that the name of the village was entered first as “Pouce Coupe” and later changed to “Pouce Coupé”. The very last entry states that “the acute e is in error. (The emphasis is mine.)
Strange to say the river was changed from the historic D’Echafaud to Pouce Coupé on Map 1H of Northern British Columbia in 1912, and has remained so.
The ‘ee/AY’ controversy was still raging locally in 1943 when the American Army boys predictably shortened it to “POOS”, where they had to go for booze (which became Pouce-juice.) Many newcomers and old-timers also have retained this convenient abbreviation. The old “Coo-PAY” is now considered to be an affectation, and “Poos-COO-Pee” is now heard in the streets and in business places, schools and offices.
Where would one hear “POOS-koop?” Around the beverage rooms or bus station perhaps. Never – but NEVER – at Chamber of Commerce meetings, at City Council, or at receptions for dignitaries. Only on stage, perhaps, where someone is clowning or at some service club’s party, would any entertainer dare to say “POOS-koop.”
I suggest that Canadian Geographic place the name of Pouce Coupe into the category of “uncertain about local preferences”, which would be a good neutral position between surviving old-time residents, the modern population and tourists.