The Real History of the Word Redskin.

David Skinner has a fascinating article at Slate that begins: “As Washington mopes to the end of a losing NFL season, the controversy over the team’s name appears to have plenty of fight left. To the language hound, however, the most remarkable aspect of this dispute may be its lack of historical context.” Skinner immediately goes on to say, quite correctly, “This fact, it’s important to emphasize, is entirely separate from whether people today, Native Americans especially, rightly find the term offensive.” As an old (if lapsed for the decades I have not been following the game) Redskins fan, I completely support the move to change the name. But Skinner is writing about something else, some largely unknown history:

In 2005, the Indian language scholar Ives Goddard of the Smithsonian Institution published a remarkable and consequential study of redskin‘s early history. His findings shifted the dates for the word’s first appearance in print by more than a century and shed an awkward light on the contemporary debate. Goddard found, in summary, that “the actual origin of the word is entirely benign.”

Redskin, he learned, had not emerged first in English or any European language. The English term, in fact, derived from Native American phrases involving the color red in combination with terms for flesh, skin, and man. These phrases were part of a racial vocabulary that Indians often used to designate themselves in opposition to others whom they (like the Europeans) called black, white, and so on.

But the language into which those terms for Indians were first translated was French. The tribes among whom the proto forms of redskin first appeared lived in the area of the upper Mississippi River called Illinois country. Their extensive contact with French-speaking colonists, before the French pulled out of North America, led to these phrases being translated, in the 1760s, more or less literally as peau-rouge and only then into English as redskin. It bears mentioning that many such translators were mixed-blood Indians.

Based on Goddard’s research, the OED changed their entry, admitting that their alleged 1699 quote was spurious: “The OED now says the quotation was ‘subsequently found to be misattributed; the actual text was written in 1900 by an author claiming, for purposes of historical fiction, to be quoting an earlier letter.’” The whole thing is quite a saga and well worth your while.

Comments

  1. Once upon a time I had a book called Pieds nus sur la terre sacrée (Touch the Earth). I may still have it, somewhere. In this collection of speeches made by Amerindians and compiled by TC McLuhan and illustrated with photographs taken by Edward S. Curtis, the expression “homme rouge” (red man) appeared more than once as far as I remember.

    This would be corroborated by the 1854 speech made by Chief Seattle for instance (included in the book), in which he is said to have said, among other words:

    To us the ashes of our ancestors are sacred and their resting place is hallowed ground. You wander far from the graves of your ancestors and seemingly without regret. Your religion was written upon tablets of stone by the iron finger of your God so that you could not forget. The Red Man could never comprehend or remember it. Our religion is the traditions of our ancestors — the dreams of our old men, given them in solemn hours of the night by the Great Spirit; and the visions of our sachems, and is written in the hearts of our people.

  2. Siganus Sutor says:

    Oh… and remembering Boris Vian…

    “Les grands pots rouges des deux cotés du perron, transformés en Indiens sauvages par la nuit qui venait et les incertitudes de l’orthographe.” — (L’Herbe rouge, 1950.)

  3. John Cowan says:

    Seattle (Siʔaɫ) spoke in Lushootseed, which was interpreted on the spot into Chinook Jargon and from that into English. So nobody knows what he said. The published version appeared 33 years later, allegedly from notes taken in English at the time.

  4. On the other hand, an ethnonym when used by outsiders can be an ethnic slur even if it has been used by the nation themselves. Finnish ryssä is an offensive word for Russians even if it based on the Russian’s own self-destination русский. Regardless of the origin of the term, the present situation in the speech of both the ethnicity itself and in the language of the outsiders referring to it must be considered.

  5. John Cowan says:

    Compare English “polack”.

  6. On the other hand, an ethnonym when used by outsiders can be an ethnic slur even if it has been used by the nation themselves. … Regardless of the origin of the term, the present situation in the speech of both the ethnicity itself and in the language of the outsiders referring to it must be considered.

    Of course. Skinner took that as a given and I take that as a given. But as supportive as I am of the “don’t call sports teams by offensive terms” movement, it’s kind of boring to talk about all the time, and I found the linguistic history interesting in its own right. And “etymology does not determine destiny” is also a given around these parts.

  7. Wikiquotes pussyfoots a little, but essentially reports the Chief Seattle speech, at least in terms of the famous quotations from it, as bogus. “… forgery, devised by television scriptwriter Ted Perry for a historical epic in 1971.”

    http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Chief_Seattle.

  8. Ethnonym…when did this waste of a good suffix word get its stamp of politically-correct approval, a Wikipedia entry?

    Ethnic jokes will not be tolerated but ethnonymic ones can be snickered at provided accompanying academic bona fides.

  9. Siganus Sutor says:

    Okay, I hoist the white flag. No, the red flag. Well, I surrender!

    Regarding ethnic slurs, there was a sentence in Le Robert dictionary saying that the term “nègre” (negro) was “insulting, except when used by the Blacks themselves”.

  10. J. W. Brewer says:

    Skinner’s phrasing “whether people today . . . rightly find the word offensive” seems to suggest that there could in principle be words widely found offensive (by people who are assumed by hypothesis to be subjectively sincere when they claim to be offended), but somehow “wrongly” so. I wonder what he would consider an example. And while an “innocent” etymology certainly does not immunize a word from subsequently becoming taboo under different circumstances, the extent to which proponents of a taboo-in-formation popularize a false etymology as part of their campaign certainly seems worth commenting on.

  11. @ J. W. Brewer. Of course, I cannot know what Mr. Skinner meant by his wording, but usually a word becomes an ethnic slur because it is used by the outgroup in the offending contexts. If there is a substantial history of white people calling Native Americans “redskins” in denigrating contexts then some of this context might reflect on the word itself. If “redskins” was usually used by white folks to describe how great the Indians were, how they culture was worthy, they traditions needed the respect, etc. then deciding that it is a term of abuse is just umbrage in search of a cause.

  12. Skinner’s phrasing “whether people today . . . rightly find the word offensive” seems to suggest that there could in principle be words widely found offensive (by people who are assumed by hypothesis to be subjectively sincere when they claim to be offended), but somehow “wrongly” so.

    That seems to me a forced and tendentious reading. I assume he simply intends the word “rightly” to signal his agreement with people who find the word offensive, and I will bet that if you contact him and ask, that’s what he’d say.

    And while an “innocent” etymology certainly does not immunize a word from subsequently becoming taboo under different circumstances, the extent to which proponents of a taboo-in-formation popularize a false etymology as part of their campaign certainly seems worth commenting on.

    Again, that seems tendentious. The etymology is entirely irrelevant to the offense, and furthermore its harmless history has only recently been discovered — the ostensible 1699 quote seemed to prove its basic malignity. And the campaign is based on its current offensiveness, not on etymological fantasies.

  13. marie-lucie says:

    there was a sentence in Le Robert dictionary saying that the term “nègre” (negro) was “insulting, except when used by the Blacks themselves”.

    LH, I remember discussions some years ago about the meaning of some French words, when I realized that my Petit Robert was ancient (1968) compared to yours and some others. I can’t find my dictionary at the moment to see what, if any, comment attached to the word, but I think that the current use of nègre in France has been influenced by the increasingly derogatory connotation of the N-word in the US. The word has not always been derogatory, otherwise the first French admirers of African art would not have chosen to call it L’Art Nègre. When I was young it was considered more respectful to use Noir (written with a capital) instead of nègre, but I never considered the word as particularly derogatory. Of course, as more and more people used Noir. nègre would have been used less and less by respectful people, and it would have remained in the vocabulary of racists.

    When translating into English, there is a problem since the word is (or at least was) much less derogatory than the American N-word. Some time ago I read an article about a hero of the French revolution, the son of a planter and a slave, whom Napoleon “called a nigger”, Since Napoleon was speaking French, this cannot be the word he used! “Negro”, now old-fashioned in the US, would have been a better translation.

  14. J. W. Brewer says:

    The false etymology to which I was referring was the “bloody-scalp” one which Ives considers “fictional,” a position Skinner seems to endorse. The apparently badly misdated citation the OED had previously publicized does not strike me as particularly “malignant” (i.e. no worse than if “Indians” or some other synonym in actual currency in the 1690′s had been used – the negative view taken by the sentence as a whole is not embedded in that particular word choice) and strikes me as consistent with basically the same etymology (“people whose skins are kind of reddish”) as the “new” one. I take it that the new information here is that the word was calqued into English from French rather than being coined in English and/or that it may have been in turn calqued into French from one or another (unidentified) indigenous languages. Neither of those claims strikes me as particularly surprising, although knowing more rather than less stuff about language history is of course interesting all by itself. I don’t see how any of this makes the word once calqued into English either more or less “harmless.” It could easily have been circa 1800 a slur in French, but not in English, or vice versa.

    If Skinner wished to express personal agreement with the proposition that the word is, these days, rightly considered offensive (including in the specific NFL-team-name context), he could have done so more clearly. Perhaps his failure to do so is intentional, perhaps not.

  15. J. W. Brewer says:

    Slightly separate point: the pre-European-colonization population of North America was both culturally and linguistically diverse (yes, Prof. Greenberg, your position is noted for the record). I don’t take Ives/Skinner to be saying that words/phrases calqueable as “redskin” were used in all or even a majority of those languages. If I were an L1 speaker of, oh, let’s say Choctaw, just to have an example, and my language didn’t use that sort of expression, I don’t see why I should give a damn that the French may have picked it up from some random Algonquin language once spoken a thousand miles away from where my ancestors lived at the time (or, even worse, from a language spoken by a rival ethnolinguistic group with whom my ancestors were habitually at war and for whom my ancestors had a highly unflattering exonym).

    Of course, there’s a sense in which no Amerind language needed a word specifically referring to Amerinds-as-a-whole as contrasted with whites, blacks, etc. before they had contact with those new arrivals to the neighborhood, and I suppose it’s possible that many Amerind languages thus borrowed/calqued such a word from a neighboring language which had already had such contact once the need arose, and that neighboring language might in turn have done the same and so on and so forth all the way back to the Atlantic coast.

  16. The false etymology to which I was referring was the “bloody-scalp” one

    Ah, OK; thanks for clarifying. Yeah, it’s unfortunate that people feel compelled to seize on the most inflammatory factoids they can find to propagate their cause without worrying very much about whether egghead scientists confirm them, but that’s humanity for you; I don’t find it a particularly interesting aspect of this case.

    If Skinner wished to express personal agreement with the proposition that the word is, these days, rightly considered offensive (including in the specific NFL-team-name context), he could have done so more clearly. Perhaps his failure to do so is intentional, perhaps not.

    Man, you’ve really got it in for this guy; again with the innuendos (“perhaps my learned colleague is in the pay of the Illuminati, and perhaps not” — or, to cite Pavel Milyukov’s famous speech to the Duma at the end of 1916, about the wretchedly incompetent government of the day, “Is this folly or is it treason?”)! I personally consider his statement perfectly clear, but I’ll happily canvass the assembled multitudes: does anybody agree with J. W. that “Skinner’s phrasing ‘whether people today . . . rightly find the word offensive’ seems to suggest that there could in principle be words widely found offensive … but somehow ‘wrongly’ so”?

  17. I don’t take Ives/Skinner to be saying that words/phrases calqueable as “redskin” were used in all or even a majority of those languages.

    Of course not; what does that have to do with anything? The point is simply that the term was borrowed from a native language, not made up by Europeans. If I say that the English word for ‘cheese’ is borrowed from Latin, would you consider it a triumph of debate to point out that Greek has a different word?

  18. marie-lucie says:

    To me the word “Peaux-Rouges”, literally ‘Redskins’. is old-fashioned, found for instance in French translations of Fenimore Cooper and the like, so I have been surprised recently to see the word used in a perfectly matter-of-fact way in Le Monde, within the past few months. Obviously the word is not considered derogatory in France, as an unambiguous variant of “Indiens”, but then few people at Le Monde, either writers or readers, are familiar with Native North Americans. I am not sure how the word is perceived in French Canada.

  19. J. W. Brewer says:

    I fear that in an effort to avoid being overly verbose I may have blundered into being overly cryptic. There are some substantial number of people who do not particularly wish to see the name of the football team changed, many of whom are among that subset of the population from which the football team derives its revenue. That is one of the primary reasons why the name has not, in fact, been changed. I personally do not feel that being open-minded about the possibility that so-and-so might be okay with the team-name status quo is on a par with an accusation with being a puppet of the Illuminati (although one would not expect the Illuminati to allow so valuable a mind-control resource as Slate to fall into the hands of their rivals, would one?), and I don’t really care whether Skinner is a member of this group of people or not.

    But separately, it might well be the case that Skinner affirmatively agrees with the team-name-condemners but thinks it unscholarly, unjournalistic and/or undignified to say so. Once you’ve specified your position that issue X, about which you’re writing, is conceptually separate from issue Y, you shouldn’t need to reassure your readers that you’re definitely not the sort of horrible person who might not agree with them about issue Y. Or it may be the case that Skinner just has no particularly strong opinion on the name-change issue one way or another and/or has a complicated view that couldn’t be made explicit without undue digression.

    I will say that on further reflection I am open to the possibility that “rightly” as used by Skinner in this context may be just a filler word not intended to add substantive nuance.

  20. “Translations of Fenimore Cooper”? “Peaux-rouges” (plural) is used in the third line of Rimbaud’s “Le Bateau Ivre”, one of the best-known French poems (at least to English-speakers).

  21. J. W. Brewer says:

    http://anthropology.si.edu/goddard/redskin.pdf is Goddard’s article, which is well worth the reading and does seem quite exhaustive, with only a teensy-weensy bit of handwaving when he needs to explain away fixed phrases in certain Amerind languages that might translate more like “brownskin” than “redskin.” (Note that “red” as a general racial term pops up substantially earlier and in a different region of the continent than “redskin” does.)

  22. “there could in principle be words widely found offensive … but somehow ‘wrongly’ so”? Of course there could. Let’s suppose someone refers to hobgoblins as “The National Elfs”. Campus after campus rises in anger, saying that the term is utterly offensive, since it’ll cut the hobgoblins to the quick. Then some troublemaker asks a hobgoblin if he is offended. “No” says he, “none of us are, we think it’s quite a good joke”.

  23. Am I the only one here who’s heard words called offensive out of pure ignorance? I’ve had angry undergraduates tell me that “rule of thumb” should be banned as a reference to wifebeating, specifically to an alleged law allowing a husband to beat his wife as long as the stick was no thicker than his thumb. Some site I read several years ago (not this one – I just looked) did the research and showed (as I recall) that this is complete hogwash, a made-up etymology, and that the phrase refers to (e.g.) carpenters and shoemakers judging how wide to cut something by measuring roughly with their thumbs, and pointers holding up their thumbs to judge the proportions of distant objects. Should we feel obligated to stop using a useful turn of phrase because it offends some ignorant people? (Too late: this site uses or quotes the phrase three times.)

    A lot of people believe that ‘nitty-gritty’ refers to slave ships and ‘picnic’ to lynching: should we stop using those words, even though those etymologies are utterly false? I can get along without ‘nitty-gritty’, but what else can you call a ‘picnic’?

    Maybe if the word sounds really wrong, we should. If ‘niggardly’ was ever in my active vocabulary, I have long since deleted it as likely to cause offense to the lexicographically uninformed, but I would strongly object to anyone who proposed editing Shakespeare and other authors to delete it from their texts. Am I wrong?

  24. Sorry, “painters”, not “pointers”, if that wasn’t obvious.

  25. Am I wrong?

    No, of course not, and I have made the same decision about niggardly. But I think the “rule of thumb” nonsense has been pretty thoroughly debunked (wasn’t that form of hysteria basically a ’90s thing?), and I strongly doubt any great number of people believe that ‘nitty-gritty’ refers to slave ships and ‘picnic’ to lynching. Let’s not get carried away with horribles.

  26. Sorry if I didn’t spell out my main point, which is that not only “could” there “in principle be words widely found offensive (by people who are assumed by hypothesis to be subjectively sincere when they claim to be offended), but somehow ‘wrongly’ so” but that in fact there are such words – unless you want to quibble about the “widely”.

  27. unless you want to quibble about the “widely”.

    I don’t consider it quibbling. You can find people who believe all manner of nonsense; I’m not sure it’s productive to focus on them in discussions of more important matters.

  28. John Cowan,
    “Compare English “polack”.”

    Compare Glaswegian “English.”

  29. Compare my “Glaswegian”.

  30. “If there is a substantial history of white people calling Native Americans “redskins” in denigrating contexts then some of this context might reflect on the word itself. ‘

    Indeed, DO. That is the only measure that matters.

    The expression “Digger” in California has a similar history. It refers to the forager economy of the societies at contact. It does not matter that it can easily be construed as complimentaray, since it takes quite a bit of skill to make a living that way. What matters is the way the term has actually been used. And sometimes getting rid of the usage yields unintended benefits. People have dropped the old common name for pinus sabiniana, “Digger pine” for “gray pine”, which is a lot more descriptive and accurate anyway.

  31. “Compare my “Glaswegian”.

    Compare “Yank”.

  32. J. W. Brewer says:

    Re “widely”: There’s an old Illuminati couplet that goes something like “Nonsense doth never prosper, what’s the reason / If it prosper, none dare call it nonsense.” It would be an interesting experiment if one could, for example, find a bunch of criticisms of then-standard English usage current circa 1968 almost exclusively among radical feminists. Some decades on, it will turn out that some of the criticisms have prospered, and transformed standard usage, some remain out there as minority peeves taken seriously only in limited circles, and some have probably vanished entirely and would be used only to add period color to historical fiction. I wonder if one had ranked the criticisms on a scale of how rationally-based versus nonsense-based they might have seemed as of ’68 (w/o benefit of knowledge of subsequent developments) how well that ranking would predict the subsequent success versus failure of the individual agenda items, versus success/failure turning out to be the result of a much more contingent and random-seeming historical process.

  33. John Cowan says:

    I think there is a duty not to offend people, but it is a duty of imperfect obligation, like alms: that is, everyone must decide for themselves how much is enough. There are probably some people who would see the shoes I’m about to go outside in as an offense against propriety (their replacements are in the mail, I hope), but frankly I do not care what such people think.

    ObConsider: Consider “sociology.”

    I find it frankly hard to swallow that the originator of the metaphor RED IS NATIVE AMERICAN was a Native American. The first use of white in the ethnic sense in English that the OED records was in 1604, and it appears in a translation from the Spanish:

    E. Grimeston tr. J. de Acosta Nat. & Morall Hist. Indies ii. xi. 106 Under the same line [the Equator, I suppose] … lies a part of Peru, and of the new kingdome of Grenado, which..are very temperate Countries, … and the inhabitants are white.

    If this one is doubtful, the next is not:

    1680 C. Ness Compl. Church-hist. 27 The White Line, (the Posterity of Seth,) … the black Line the Cursed brood of Cain.

    Until shown otherwise, I will continue to think that red was a term first used by whites, though not necessarily derogatory in itself; as I have noted before, any term used for something despised tends to become derogatory, however neutral it starts out as.

  34. I find it frankly hard to swallow that the originator of the metaphor RED IS NATIVE AMERICAN was a Native American.

    And your evidence for this is the history of white and black? You surprise me; you’re normally the most sensible of people.

  35. John Cowan says:

    Pre-contact Natives wouldn’t need a generic word for ‘Native Americans’ other than their word for ‘person’. of any kind. Still less would they be likely to use a color-based one, as theirs was the only skin color they knew. Europeans were already using such words, not perhaps before contact, but substantially before any of Goddard’s sources. If francophones, for example, chose the RED metaphor, Natives would be quite likely to pick it up and render it literally, all the more so as we find it in unrelated American languages. Compare Bloomfield’s firewater example.

    (How nice it is to be able to link to a specific comment!)

  36. J. W. Brewer says:

    John C.: see the third page of the Goddard article I linked to above, with his 1725 anecdotes (one in present-day Alabama with a Francophone interlocutor, the other in present-day South Carolina with an Anglophone interlocutor).

  37. John Cowan says:

    That says (citations omitted):

    The first uses [i.e., recorded uses] of the term red as a racial label that Shoemaker found are from 1725. In that year, a Taensa chief talking to a French Capuchin priest in Mobile recounted an origin story about a “white man”, a “red man”, and a “black man”, and a Chickasaw chief meeting with the English Commissioner for Indian Affairs at Savanna Town referred to “White people” and “red people”.

    But what is not said, and perhaps not known, is whether the conversations were in Natchez (which the Taensa spoke) and Chickasaw, or in French and English. (Obviously they were recorded in European languages.) If the latter, they are no evidence at all for the existence of the metaphor in Native languages first. Nor is this explanation probative:

    Robert Vézina cites Jean-Bernard Bossu (1768), who quotes a Natchez elder as referring to “tous les hommes rouge”, explaining that “C’est ainsi que ces Sauvages s’appellent pour se distinguer des Européens qui sont blancs, & des Africains qui sont noirs.”

    That shows only that RED IS NATIVE AMERICAN had been adopted by the Natchez by 1768, not that either they or any other Natives originated it.

    No, better evidence than this will be needed to establish that Natives invented the metaphor, and the use of WHITE IS EUROPEAN, BLACK IS AFRICAN in European languages more than a century before is at the very least suggestive.

  38. “Suggestive” I’ll accept.

  39. If the all-caps notation is intended à la Lakoff, the order should be reversed: NATIVE AMERICAN IS RED. I’m not sure if this kind of thing even counts as a metaphor in conceptual metaphor theory, though.

  40. marie-lucie says:

    Some years ago I bought a book called The White Man. It has nothing to do with “the white man’s burden” or such, it is about dark-skinned people’s perceptions of “white” explorers and colonizers. In a surprising number of places, “white” people are called “red”, because very fair skin (that doesn’t tan) turns red rather than brown when exposed to a lot of sun.

  41. marie-lucie says:

    Michael Hendry: Le dernier des Mohicans has long been popular in France, as part of youth literature. It is very likely that Rimbaud read it as a boy.

    I said that Peaux-Rouges sounds very old-fashioned to me, and I would never use it to refer to contemporary native people. Obviously Le Monde , or someone there, does not agree.

  42. John Cowan says:

    Woops. Thanks, TR; I did intend Lakoff notation. But I don’t see why this isn’t an appropriate case for it. It’s not as if white people are focally white, black people focally black, or red people focally red.

  43. John Cowan says:

    A Navajo woman from Tony Hillerman’s novel Talking God:

    “The first time I went to see Henry Highhawk, I couldn’t find his place at first. I walked right past it, and then back again. There was a car parked up the block a ways with a man sitting in it. He was staring at me, so I noticed him. Medium to small apparently. Maybe forty-five or so. Red hair, a lot of freckles, sort of a red face.” She paused and glanced at Chee with an attempt at a smile. “Do you ever wonder why they call us redskins?” she asked.

  44. It’s not as if white people are focally white, black people focally black, or red people focally red.

    Right, but people do have color, whereas conceptual metaphors map the structure of one domain onto another, unrelated one. Lakoff would probably call redskins a part-for-whole metonymy.

  45. There’s also Goscinny and Uderzo’s pre-Asterix hero Oumpah-Pah, whose first (1958) adventure was Oumpah-Pah le Peau-Rouge. I’ve never seen any of the albums but he seems to have been an admirable sort, like Asterix but better-looking.

  46. “If there is a substantial history of white people calling Native Americans “redskins” in denigrating contexts then some of this context might reflect on the word itself. ‘

    There doesn’t seem to be such a history, and certainly in the last 70 years I doubt more than a handful of white or black people have used the word “Redskin” to denigrate Native Americans. To my ears the word is thoroughly obsolete. I suspect it is the obsolescence of the word that makes it seem so offensive to most people – it seems very condescending to call someone a “Redskin” in 2014 even if it was never meant as an insult. I think “colored” was rarely used as an insult for African Americans – but again the word is now so old fashioned that it strikes most people as insulting. “Redskin” is a dated term that clearly harks back to an era when Native Americans were routinely treated at best as mascots for white people’s amusement, and at worst as an archaic form of human that was supposed to leave history’s stage. So even if the word itself has rarely been used viciously, or was even a compliment at some point, you can’t strip it from its historical context.

  47. Also, speaking as a former Redskins fan and former DC resident myself, given what the current ownership has done to the team and its reputation, I consider that the real “Washington Redskins” ceased to exist in the mid-1990s. A name change is well past due.

  48. The etymology is entirely irrelevant to the offense

    In the beginning was the word…taking offense hadn’t yet been codified, propagandized, institutionalized and sold to the thin-skinned for the cost of a “higher” education.

  49. “I find it frankly hard to swallow that the originator of the metaphor RED IS NATIVE AMERICAN was a Native American. The first use of white in the ethnic sense in English that the OED records was in 1604, and it appears in a translation from the Spanish:”

    John, that analogy disproves the point you are trying to make. The Spanish are European, “white” – so white that the name for the dish “Moors and Christians” is based on that whiteness.

  50. The expression “Digger” in California has a similar history. It refers to the forager economy of the societies at contact. It does not matter that it can easily be construed as complimentaray, since it takes quite a bit of skill to make a living that way. What matters is the way the term has actually been used. And sometimes getting rid of the usage yields unintended benefits. People have dropped the old common name for pinus sabiniana, “Digger pine” for “gray pine”, which is a lot more descriptive and accurate anyway.

    Have “harvesters” and “gatherers” likewise been expunged from history texts?

    As for the pinus, in anything but a limited botanical context, the adjective “digger” better encompasses the critical symbiosis; historical, anthropological and cultural, of a plant species and those indigenous groups whom we strongly associate with it.

  51. In Papua New Guinea, the very dark-skinned people of Bougainville (= North Solomons) refer to the people of mainland New Guinea as “redskins” as in this account of World War II: Redskins Trapped in Bougainville.

  52. A native american man sitting across from my sister and I on the El the other night made the same joke – He was supposed to be red but wasn’t, even in the cold, but we, having waited on the frigid platform for 10 minutes, were.

  53. J. W. Brewer says:

    As I suspect I have mentioned before in a slightly different context, if you look at Japanese woodblock prints from the first few decades post the 1850ish re-engagement with the outside world, “white” foreigners are typically not depicted as paler-faced than the locals but are often depicted as relatively red-faced, presumably representing what we would think of as a ruddy or rosy-cheeked complexion. But I don’t know if the Japanese lexicon conformed to the visual arts in this regard.

  54. Hozho,

    “Have “harvesters” and “gatherers” likewise been expunged from history texts? ”

    No, because there is no simialr history of derogatory usage. This issue is not the inherent semantics but the pragmatic aspects of the word.

    “As for the pinus, in anything but a limited botanical context, the adjective “digger” better encompasses the critical symbiosis; historical, anthropological and cultural, of a plant species and those indigenous groups whom we strongly associate with it.”

    Which is a manifestly less satisfactory name, since it cwenters the relationship with humans. Especially in California, where humans are considered basically a weed species that has gone out of control, that name is not going to have much appeal.

  55. It’s a waste of time arguing with Hozho; I enjoy his participation, which adds the same invigorating effect as vinegar in a salad, but you have to bear in mind that his delight is in tossing “provocative” remarks in to épater la bourgeoisie, not in actual discussion.

  56. marie-lucie says:

    LH: Vinegar in a salad! Perfect! The desirable amount depends on your taste. Personally I prefer a light touch.

    Incidentally, the cliché phrase in French is épater le bourgeois, the typical ignorant Philistine, not the entire bourgeoisie which is more a sociological category.

  57. Épater is too wussy. What one does as a Leninist to the bourgeoisie is écraser it:

    Tant qu’il y a des classes, liberté et égalité des classes sont une duperie bourgeoise. Le prolétariat prend le pouvoir, devient la classe dominante, brise le parlementarisme bourgeois et la démocratie bourgeoise, écrase la bourgeoisie, écrase toutes les tentatives de toutes les autres classes pour revenir au capitalisme, donne la liberté et l’égalité véritables aux travailleurs (ce qui n’est réalisable qu’avec l’abolition de la propriété privée des moyens de production), leur donne non seulement des « droits », mais la jouissance reélle de ce qui a été ôté à la bourgeoisie.

  58. No, because there is no simialr history of derogatory usage.

    In the same way that “digging” is a derogatory act when done by dirt-poor Amerindians but apparently not when done by urban organic gardeners cum language mavens? Take up your pitchforks yo-men and yo-women, there’s plenty more linguistic manure to be spread!

    Especially in California, where humans are considered basically a weed species that has gone out of control, that name is not going to have much appeal.

    You have my deepest consternation and californicus consideration.

    Thanks Hat (and M-L) for the adoubement, pisse-vinaigre Lite me convient parfaitement!

  59. J. W. Brewer says:

    I would be curious what percentage of the current population of California thinks of “digger” as primarily a reference to a particular group of Indians (pejorative or otherwise), versus e.g. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diggers_(theater), who were well-known habitues of San Francisco back in the Sixties or even their namesake the http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diggers. I can see why a botanical reference book generated by a Berkeley professor (which apparently pushes the renaming of the pine in question) would reflect the particular social concerns and anxieties of Berkeley professors, but I don’t know that that’s really representative of Calfornia English-speakers more general.

  60. Sorry for jumping late to this thread, but I think I have another piece of the puzzle. John Cowan informs us that “white” as an ethnic label is first attested in English in 1604 as a translation from the Spanish. I would like to suggest that this use of “white” as an ethnic label may have spread among at least some Native North Americans from a non-English source:

    There existed a Basque pidgin used in parts of Eastern Canada (Atlantic Canada, Saint-Lawrence valley) in the sixteenth/early seventeenth century, called Souriquois Jargon. Peter Bakker, the scholar who has pioneered work on this language, has proposed that “Souriquois” derives from Basque pidgin ZURI “white” and KO “people” (-A is the Basque definite article, which was systematically incorporated in the Basque nouns found in the pidgin), and thus has the elliptical meaning “White nation” (language). Could the Native American inhabitants of the Ohio valley have received this use of WHITE= EUROPEAN as a loan translation from further North?

    Two more points:

    1-Echoing Marie-Lucie: I too find “Peau-rouge” to be an old, indeed near-obsolete word term in French.

    2-In the linked article many of the quotations in French are truly atrocious as far as their spelling goes, but this is atrocious spelling that gives nice clues as to how French was pronounced back in colonial times.

  61. marie-lucie says:

    Merci Etienne. I had never heard this about Souriquois, although I had seen the word. The Basque link makes sense, as in barachois from a Basque word. But what about Iroquois and other words in -ois?

    (Was your commented supposed to link to an article?)

    Treesong: There’s also Goscinny and Uderzo’s pre-Asterix hero Oumpah-Pah, whose first (1958) adventure was Oumpah-Pah le Peau-Rouge.

    Just as Astérix is a Gaul living 2000 years ago, not a modern Frenchman, Oumpah-Pah is most likely a “Red Indian” of past centuries, like “Hawkeye” and others, not a contemporary Native North American.

    Perhaps in my comment on the word Peau-Rouge I should have said that it reflects an older reality, and is not used to refer to a modern context.

    JWB: if you look at Japanese woodblock prints from the first few decades post the 1850ish re-engagement with the outside world, “white” foreigners are typically not depicted as paler-faced than the locals but are often depicted as relatively red-faced, presumably representing what we would think of as a ruddy or rosy-cheeked complexion.

    Years ago when still a student I saw on French TV an interview with a young man who had spent some time in Japan. He related a conversation with a Japanese counterpart who kept saying “We white people .., we white people…” After a while the Frenchman said “If you are white, what am I?” and the Japanese answered “Oh, you people are pink”.

    Indeed many Japanese have very pale faces, without a trace of pink, and some women still wear white makeup, as do actors in some traditional plays.

  62. And of course the ancient Egyptians represented themselves with red skin.

  63. marie-lucie says:

    There is a lot of sun in Egypt.

  64. John Cowan says:

    But what about Iroquois and other words in -ois?

    Iroquois is generally agreed to be an Algonquian exonym, but the exact language it comes from and its meaning in that language are not known.

  65. Marie-Lucie (and no, there was and is no link!), John Cowan: actually, Bakker has argued for a pidgin Basque etymology of “Iroquois” (which looks much more satisfactory than any of the alternatives I have seen), as deriving from HIL(O) “kill” + KOA “nation”, i.e. “Nation of Killers”. A suitable name, from the vantage point of Algonquian speakers further North, and indeed many of the Algonquian exonyms for the Iroquois meant “snake nation” or the like. It has been suggested (by an Algonquianist whose name will perhaps come back to me after I’ve sent this message) that the raids and ambushes of the Iroquois, relying heavily on the element of surprise, were perceived by their Algonquian-speaking victims/neighbors as something similar to a snake attack (i.e. an unpredictable and deadly surprise), leading to their calling the Iroquois the “snake people”.

  66. J. W. Brewer says:

    My younger daughter is learning about the Iroquois this year in school, even though we live pretty far downstate from their traditional territory, presumably because they are so cool (and the local Algonquins this far downstate disappeared very early in history, although the next elementary school over is named for one of their subtribes). That they generally remain ok with being referred to in English by an etymologically-uncomplimentary exonym just adds to their coolness. “Why should we be insulted by what the Algonquins and/or French used to call us? We kicked their asses.” Although otoh I think “Six Nations” is perhaps more common in Ontario than it is in NY state, so maybe there’s a CanEng/AmEng difference here?

  67. John Cowan says:

    Etienne: By “Algonquian exonym” I meant “exonym used by the Algonquians”.

  68. John Cowan says:

    Dearieme: Wikiquote is talking about the fake fake Chief Seattle speech (written for a film on ecology by Perry), as opposed to the genuine fake Chief Seattle speech (written by Smith, supposedly from his notes) to which I was referring. Perry tried for many years to set the record straight.

    I’ve read the whole Goddard article now, and it seems clear to me that redskin got into English due to Native-to-French-to-English translation, and that it is a calque of peau-rouge. But I think it’s still open whether the original metaphor came from Natives or Newcomers.

  69. John Cowan says:

    Okay, I hoist the white flag. No, the red flag.

    Satanas, I mean Siganus: would that be the red flag of international socialism, or the earlier red flag meaning “No quarter taken or given”? Blood, in any case.

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