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  • Paul Anthony Jones


(n.) an especially beautiful sunset

In America’s Pacific Northwest, a winding 160-mile river crosses the border from Idaho and flows into Washington’s Snake river. Further downstream, the Snake in turn meets the Columbia river, the longest river in America to empty into the Pacific.

Close to the mouth of the smaller tributary, however, stands a large half-submerged rock. That led to the local Sahaptin people to name a nearby village Palús—literally ‘that which is standing up in the water’. That name was then anglicized, and the river flowing into the Snake became known as the Palouse.

Etymologically, the Palouse has a handful of offspring—the most famous of which is probably the Appaloosa horse (although rival explanations of that name abound). A palouse, or palouser, is also the name of a kind of makeshift metal lamp, and in American slang the same word can be used for a naïve rube or an inexperienced worker.

In some parts of the US, however, a palouser is something quite different: an especially beautiful sunset.

First recorded in the early 1900s, in this sense palouser alludes to the supposedly striking sunsets for which the region around the Palouse river is known. “A gorgeous sunset,” as one 1918 account defined palouse, so named because, “the sunsets in the Palouse are very magnificent.”

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