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Posted by TheFallen on September 09, 2002

Ms. ESC quoted the following in the Indian Giver discussion:-

INDIAN GIVER - Charles Earle Funk, in Heavens to Betsy! and Other Curious Sayings states: ".even back in colonial days an 'Indian gift' referred to the 'alleged custom among Indians,' according to the 'Handbook of American Indians' issued by the Smithsonian Institution, 'of expecting an equivalent for a gift or otherwise its return.' The same authority defines 'Indian giver' - 'A repentant giver.'."

Now I'm not in the least qualified to comment upon the origins of "Indian Giver" - except to say that I'd use the phrase to describe someone who gives something, but at a later stage takes the "gift" back, claiming it was only a loan after all, rather than someone who gives a gift, expecting something in return. Off subject, there is another mythico-racial phrase dealing with valueless or indeed dangerous presents, namely "Beware of Greeks bearing gifts", which comes to us courtesy of the legend of the wooden horse and the fall of Troy.

However, that's not the point at all. It's the above usage of "repentant" that piqued my interest. These days, repentance is invariably seen as a virtue, having definite moral, if not religious overtones. Charles Funk seems to be using it either incorrectly, or in an older, less connotation-ridden sense. I had originally instantly presumed that repent must stem from the Latin meaning "to rethink", which would have made sense in Funk's context, but on checking, I am entirely wrong. It stems from paenitere, meaning to be a subject of pain. This doesn't fit so neatly with the quoted "repentant giver" phrase, though - just because something hurts, doesn't mean that it's not going to be done.

So after all that hot air, which is it? A differently slanted meaning of repentant? Or did Mr. Funk just choose his words badly?

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