phrases, sayings, idioms and expressions at

Los Indios, Indians, Savage, Noble Savage, Native American

Posted by ESC on April 03, 2002

In Reply to: Redskin posted by ESC on April 02, 2002

: : : I think it is the political correct answer, did you notice "genocidal practice". If you look up scalping, you will see several sites trying to make the argument it was Europe that originated the practice and the tribes just innocently got caught up into the action. Here is a good site that dispels that, "Finally, the words that are used to describe "scalp" and "scalping" had no set vocabulary and no universal translation in European languages, but Indians of different backgrounds and languages had nouns and verbs to refer to the specific use of the terminology."

: : : I can't help but think red=blood and because it is a negative English word for American Indians, I think it might have something to do with Indians taking scalps, because it would be a bloody mess, leaving them with redskinds.

: : But did you come to this forum to get information about the origin of "redskin" or to promote a hypothesis about it? The reference books that the regulars here rely on say the word came from a supposed reddish hue to Indians' skin. They say nothing about blood or scalping. The origin of a word isn't established just by finding that one or another idea is intuitively appealing. You need historical support, too; and we presume that the compilers of the reference books have researched the phrases they explain. As an example, look at "the Whole nine yards" as tossed around in the archives on this site. Many people have "decided" what the "true" origin of that phrase is--but they have proposed DIFFERENT origins.

RED INDIAN - "An offensive name for Native Americans, but a historical term applied by the British to North American Indians, apparently because of 'their copper-colored skin' and to distinguish them semantically from the Indians of India. From 'Red Indian' came the derogatory word redskin." From "Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins" by Robert Hendrickson (Facts on File, New York, 1997).

LOS INDIOS, INDIAN, SAVAGE, NOBLE SAVAGE -- "Since the original inhabitants of the Western Hemisphere neither called themselves by a single term nor understood themselves as a collectivity, the idea and image of the Indian must be a White concept..The term 'Indian' as a general designation for the inhabitants of North and South America in addition to some Asians stems from the erroneous geography of Christopher Columbus. Under the impression he had landed among the islands off Asia, he called the peoples he met 'los Indios.' Although he quite self-consciously gave new names to islands upon his first voyage, his application of the term 'Indios' seems to have been almost casual."

I skimmed this book and didn't see a reference to "redskin," the subject of the original inquiry.

But Mr. Berkhofter does include an early description contained in Amerigo Vespucci's "Mundus Novus," published around 1504-1505: "They have indeed large square-built bodies, well formed and proportioned, and in color verging on reddish. This I think has come to them, because, going around naked, they are colored by the sun."

"Seventeenth-century Frenchmen, Italians, and Englishmen generally employed a variant of the Latin 'silvaticus,' meaning a forest inhabitant or man of the woods, for the Indian as the earlier spellings of 'saulvage,' 'salvaticho,' and 'salvage' show so well in each of the respective languages. English usage switched from 'savage' to 'Indian' as the general term for Native Americans in the seventeenth century, but the French continued to use 'sauvage' as the preferred word into the nineteenth century. The original image behind this terminology probably derives from the ancient one associated with the 'wild man,' or 'wilder Mann' in Germany."

".What Englishmen called Native Americans and how they understood them after a few decades of settlement was summarized by Roger Williams in a brief analysis of nomenclature in 'A Key Into the Language of America; Or, An Help to the Language of the Natives in That Part of America Called New England' . Under the heading: 'By what names are they distinguished,' he divided terminology into two sorts: 'First, those of the English giving: as Natives, Salvages, Indians, Wild-men, (so the Dutch call them 'Wilden'), Abergeny Men, Pagans, Barbarians, Heathen. Second, their Names, which they give themselves.'"

From "The Idea of the Indian: Invention and Perpetuation," from "The White Man's Indian: Images of the American Indian from Columbus to the Present" by Robert F. Berkhofer Jr. (First Vintage Books Edition, 1979; originally published by Alfred A. Knoft Inc., 1978).

"As information about the inhabitants of the New World became better known in the Old, Native Americans entered the literary and imaginative works of European writers, particularly the French. In this way the American Indian became part of the 'bon sauvage' or Noble Savage tradition so long an accompaniment of the Golden Age or paradisaical mythology of Western civilization.Only after French and English explorations and settlement proceeded in the seventeenth century, however, could the European imagination be stimulated by accounts other than Spanish in origin, and the noble Huron and Iroquois and other tribesmen north of Mexico join their literary colleagues, the wise princes of the Inca and Aztec realms and the good Indians of Brazil and the Antilles."

From "European Primitivism, the Noble Savage, and the American Indian," also a chapter in "The White Man's Indian: Images of the American Indian from Columbus to the Present."

REDSKIN -- "redskin, 1699; red man, 1725; red devil, 1834." From "I Hear America Talking" by Stuart Berg Flexner (Von Nostrand Reinhold Co., New York, 1976).

RED MEN - "The Improved Order of Red Men was originally organized by those who admired Indian character and who adopted as their 'patron' Chief Tammany. It is now an organization that does charitable and benevolent acts. The first idea was started in Philadelphia around 1772 when a society met called 'The Sons of Tammany.' They met at the home of Mr. James Byran." This reference does not include an entry for "redskin." From the "Dictionary of the American Indian: An A-to-Z Guide to Indian History, Legend and Lore" by John Stoutenburgh Jr. (Wing Books, Avenel, New Jersey, 1960)

NATIVE AMERICAN -- "adj, n (a member) of the indigenous peoples of North America. A term not in wide use until the 1970s, when the political incorrectness of referring to such people as 'Indians' began to be more keenly felt. Before long, it too succumbed, the offending component being 'native.' 1956 Aldous Huxley: Thank you for your most interesting letter about the Native American churchmen." From "20th Century Words: The Story of New Words in English Over the Last 100 Years" by John Ayto (Oxford University Press, New York, 1999)