Posted by R. Berg on August 08, 2001
In Reply to: Honest engine posted by Markitos on August 08, 2001
: : : Where does it come from...
: : I'm sure it's 'honest Injun', where 'injun' is a corruption of 'indian' and is meant to imply that a particular 'red indian', as Native Americans were called a couple of 100 years ago, was an honest one, ie 'honest' by white man's standards, which were very different from the long standing native ones and not necessarily of the best!
: And it's usually used as a rejoinder when one's truthfulness has been questioned, as in "Are you sure it wasn't you who broke the window?" "Honest injun!"...
From Eric Partridge, "A Dictionary of Catch Phrases American and British":
honest Injun (occ. 'Indian'): 'Honour bright!', you can take my word for it: orig. early 1880s, US; in Brit. use by c. 1895, mostly owing to the popularity of Mark Twain's books; obsolete by mid C20.
I have a hunch, not empirically supported, that the phrase is based on an idea that American Indians were extremely truthful whereas white people were prone to lying (cf. "White man speak with forked tongue").