Indian Giver

Posted by E. on December 08, 1999

In Reply to: Indian Giver posted by Bruce Kahl on December 08, 1999

: : I'm trying to research the origin of the phrase Indian Giver.
: : When I was growing up it meant to take back something you had given to someone else.
: : This seems strange in light of what I've learned about " give aways" as part of native American culture.
: : Does anyone have any idea where this term originated?
: : Maybe it came from the way the government gave to the Indians and then took back from them.

: The phrase dates back to the early 19th century and originally meant someone who gives a gift in the expectation of receiving something of greater value in return, which was indeed a custom among Indians that must have struck early European settlers as rather odd. Later on, the phrase came to mean a "false gift," as the adjective "Indian" itself took on the pejorative meaning of "false" or "mock," a sense also found in "Indian Summer" and "Indian corn."

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.'."

See also: the meaning and origin of 'Indian summer'.