phrases, sayings, idioms and expressions at


Posted by R. Berg on April 03, 2002

In Reply to: George posted by ESC on April 03, 2002

: : : : George Carlin is a comedian, not a philologist, and I haven't checked his facts, but he does have a great sensitivity to language, and this is what he says about "Indian":

: : : : "There's nothing wrong with the word Indian. First of all, it's important to know that the word Indian does not derive from Columbus mistakenly believing he had reached 'India.' India was not even called by that name in 1492; it was known as Hindustan. More likely, the word 'Indian' comes from Columbus's description of the people he found here. He was an Italian, and did not speak or write very good Spanish, so in his written accounts he called the Indians, 'Una gente in Dios.' A people in God. In God. In Dios. Indians." [George Carlin, "Brain Dropppings," Hyperion Press, 1997, p. 165]

: : : I think George was an English major. It would be interesting to know the source of his information.

: : This I find confusing. I don't doubt Mr. Carlin's sincerity for an instant, and I'm happily prepared to believe that India was called Hindustan at that time. However, a little research in my shamefully truncated edition of the OED and on the Web shows that the people originally from the region of the valley of the river Indus had been referred to as Indian in both Middle English, Latin (indicus), Ancient Greek (indikos) and Persian (hind - hence Hindustan, Hindi etc). My OED, under its Usage notes for the adjective "Indian", repeats the tale of Columbus' mistakenly believing that he had found the East Indies, and hence deciding that the natives were therefore Indians, and given the frequent progression of words from Ancient Greek to Latin and then to other Romance languages, I'd guess that it was fairly likely that the adjective in use in the Spain of 1492 to refer to the region of modern-day India was indeed Indian or "indio", if that's the Spanish equivalent.

: : This is all supposition of course, but I think the weight of evidence is on the side of Columbus' error.

: : The following link has some information on the origins of the words India and Hindu.

: : troyoga/mh/mh.htm

: From the George Carlin timeline: 1953 - Drops out of school after nine gruelling years.

: So I guess George Carlin wasn't an English major. I suppose I got that idea because a lot of his early work sounded like the linguistics I was (supposed) to be studying in college. Only he made it sound way more interesting. What some brave soul could do is ask him where he got his information -- georgecarlin/home/home.html He scares me.

The nontruncated OED doesn't support Carlin's assertion about what India was called. "Ind" ("Inde," "Ynde") was in use in Chaucer's time--indeed, Chaucer used it--and earlier. No separate entry for "Hindustan," but there is one for "Hindustani," and that term seems to have come later.

© 1997 – 2024 All rights reserved.