The state is named for the Platte River, which is called in Omaha-Ponca NiNbdhaska(=khe) '(the) Platte River'; literally '(the) Flatwater', or in Ioway-Otoe N^iNbraske (or, more recently, -brahke or -brat^ke) [all with the same meaning].
My suspicion is that the actual source was Ioway-Otoe. This comes from two factors. First, during much of the later 1700s and 1800s, the Otoe were situated at the mouth of the Platte, in a position to present their own name for the stream to visitors. Second, Nebraska looks to me like a collapsed syllable spelling Ne-bras-ka, probably intended to represent what I would write as in the Lewis & Clark Phonetic Alphabet (LCPA) as Nee-BROSS-kay. That is, I suspect "ka" was intended to represent phonetic (NetSiouan) /ke/, not /ka/ (LCPA kay, not kah), and that would have to be the Ioway-Otoe version. My feeling is that real phonetic /ka/ would have been written "kar," cf. "Mahar" (this really is a Lewis & Clark spelling) for UmaNhaN 'Omaha' or "kah." The Dhegiha languages retain ska from *ska (LCPA skah) in final position while Ioway-Otoe converts it to ske (LCPA sk ay).
Once the word was written as a lump "Nebraska" and subjected to pronunciation by English speakers who hadn't heard the original, the final syllable was changed to phonetic (NetSiouan) /ka/ (LCPA kah), or, actually, /k<schwa>/ (LCPA kuh). In the same way the initial "ne" acquired a lax (short) e (LCPA neh) or schwa (LCPA nuh) pronunciation instead of i (LCPA ee) (long e in English terms) pronunciation, and the medial a in -bras- was fronted to the low front a of American cat (instead of the low central a of American father).
Of course, early popular transcriptions are incredibly imprecise, and I don't have any information on the early history of the word in English. Maybe final "ka" did represent phonetic /ka/ (LCPA kah), in which case, it would have to be a Dhegiha form something like the Omaha-Ponca version that was the source. In fact, with this word any of the Dhegiha languages would produce pretty much the same effect on English ears. While Omaha-Ponca would seem the most likely suspect because the Omaha and Ponca were conveniently nearby, the Kansa and Osage were also originally both below the Platte along the Missouri and their languages are also plausible sources for the names of major tributaries upstream.
The practice of referring to major rivers as 'waters' is regular in Siouan languages and perhaps also in at least the adjoining Caddoan language Pawnee, since the Pawnee call the Platte Kickatus (c = ts), also meaning 'Flatwater', from kic- 'water' + katus 'flat'. French l'Eau Plat(t)e is a literal translation of these 'Flatwater' names, and French names for other rivers in the area are often based on eau 'water' . English usually follows its own muse and borrows from French or one of the local languages instead of translating.
Not all Siouan groups called the Platte the Flatwater. The Ponca are reported to have called it NiNtta'Nga 'Greatwater'. The Dakotan groups called it PhaNke'ska Wakpa' (this is Teton), meaning 'Clam(shell) Stream'.
Essentially, Sioux is a truncation of a longer form, Nadouessioux, used as a sort of slang alternative in colonial French for the longer term. Such truncated slang forms were used commonly in colonial French, and several of them have found their way into English; for example, Sioux for Nadouessioux (also English Nadowessie, etc.), Kaw (from Can) for Cansez (English Kansas or Kansa), and Ree (from Ris) for Arikaris (English Arikara or Arikaree).
The original source for Nadouessioux (a French spelling) is the Ojibwa pejorative-diminutive form Na:towe:ssiw (to use a conservative Ojibwa dialect spelling) or Naadwesi (to use a modern Odawa dialect spelling), referring to Siouan peoples and particularly to Dakota speakers. There is a related, non-diminutive form Na:towe: (Odawa dialect Naadwe, Cree Na:towe:w), referring to the Iroquois. Sometimes the terms are confused or reversed in modern usage. The pejorative-diminutive form also refers in Ojibwa to the massasauga, a small rattlesnake (Sistrurus catenatus) of the upper Midwestern US and adjacent Canada.
A pejorative-diminutive form is one that combines the sense of bad/unappealing (pejorative) and small (diminutive). In English obscenities usually provide the equivalent of a pejorative, while -y or -ie (Billy, Janie) is a diminutive suffix. So is -kin, as in 'munchkin.' 'Little', nominally a diminutive adjective, can have a pejorative sense, as in, "You have a little problem, you little [obscenity deleted]?"
There is a running scholarly debate concerning which of the two senses, massasauga or Dakota, is primary, and just what sort of insult might be intended for whom or what in each case. Well, it is a pejorative-diminutive, right? There is also a running debate concerning whether in consequence of whatever analysis one accepts, it is appropriate to use the term Sioux in English. And, for the philosophically inclined, there is a para-debate concerning whether one is being insulting if one uses the term in English being under the impression that one understands the etymology of the term. Finally (?) there is the meta-para-debate that arises as to the effect on this impression if one's etymology is incorrect.
The whole subject has a lot in common with similar discussions of 'Eskimo' and 'Samoyed', or, for that matter, n'em'ets 'mute' (the original sense of the Russian for 'German)' or barbaros 'babbler' (Ancient Greek for a non-Hellene). What we learn from all this is that terms for neighbors are seldom entirely flattering, and that it can be fairly educational to pursue their etymologies.
The most widely accepted scholarly analysis has been that the form is a derivative of a proto-Algonquian medial stem -a:towe:- meaning 'speak a foreign language'. Which might be a polite way of saying 'to babble mutely', right? This view is espoused by William Fenton in his article Northern Iroquoian Culture Patterns in The Handbook of North American Indians, Vol. 15, pp.320-321. According to the late Dr. Frank Siebert, MD, in the article to be cited below, this analysis actually originates with the eminent Algonquianist Ives Goddard. Under this analysis the forms Na:towe: and Na:towe:ssiw mean essentially 'barbarian' (i.e., speaker of an incomprehensible language) and 'lesser (or miserable little) barbarian', for the Iroquois and Siouan peoples, respectively. In this case, if you're pursuing that angle, the insult arises from likening the snake to the people, and is somewhat amplified by that pejorative-diminutive.
At least this is where matters stood until recently But the Siebert, another lifelong student of Native American languages, especially the Algonquian ones and their neighbors, published not long before his death an analysis, Proto-Algonquian *na:tawe:wa 'massasauga': some false etymologies and alleged Iroquoian loanwords, in Anthropological Linguistics 38.4:635-642, which argues that the snake interpretation is primary. In his view the term reflects Proto-Algonquian na:t- 'close [in] upon, etc.' plus -awe:- 'condition of heat', leading to an analysis '(little) seeker of warmth', referring, he suggests, to the massasauga's propensity for hiding in woodpiles and other warm places around human habitations. This then was extended metaphorically to Dakota warriors also lying in wait near Ojibwa habitations, with even more unpleasant consequences. (Your chances of recovering from the snake-bite were better.) In this case, the basis of the insult is likening the people to the snake.
Now, for a good time, consider the Dakotan term 'whiteman'. Actually, a lot of Native American terms for whiteman are not all that flattering. Generally the insult, apparently more or less incidental to first impressions, comes from likening whitemen either to the Trickster or to ghosts. The Trickster tends to have a bizarre and unnatural concept of right behavior, prominently featuring incest, lust, theft, gluttony, cannibalism, treachery, ingratitude, lack of perception, garrulousness, presumption, selfishness, offensive familiarity - well, you get the picture. Ghosts are not necessarily a more flattering conception, however, if you consider all the implications.
So, a certain amount of rough humor occurs in many Native American names for other groups, as we have seen, not to mention subunits of the same tribe, as the Hu'bdhaN 'Waft of fish odor' band of Poncas have no doubt noticed.
There is no detailed etymology of Dakota widely accepted. The usual explanation is 'friend', and also, of course, it means 'to be a Dakota' and 'the language of the Dakota'. The stem is infixing for some speakers, e.g., lama'khota 'I am a Lakota', while for others it is prefixing, mala'khota 'I am a Lakota'.
As far as 'friend', the causative 'to be friendly with' is lakhol'=ya (lakhol'=waye 'I am friendly with him', ...). The truncated combining form lakho'l= is perfectly normal for a stem ending in -ta. It also occurs in lakhol'=iya 'to speak Lakota'. In Santee the full form is dakho'ta, and the truncated form is dakhon=.
However, compare this with the stem kho'la, which is 'male's particular (or good) friend', and has similar derivatives, e.g., khol'=ya 'to have as a particular friend'. Although kho'la is not apparently from *kho'ta, and that form is not attested, it is reasonable to expect a connection between the two forms lakho'ta and kho'la, albeit one that must be characterized as irregular. What, then, does the prefix la- (or da-, etc., depending on the dialect) add to the sense of the verb kho'ta ~ kho'l=?
In fact, this is somewhat hard to say, because only a few other words have a prefixal element anything like la-. Buechel lists la=taku=wac^hiN and la=wic^h=ox?aN=wac^hiN, both glossed as 'to exaggerate something for humorous effect'. These are both complex formations, but, without the la- they mean respectively something like 'to think it a matter of concern' and 'to think to work upon (deceive) people'. The initial la- is apparently left, then, to cover the sense of 'for humorous effect'. This la- might be a reduced form of laka' 'to have an opinion of' or, more likely, of la'ka 'much, rather', but normally that would follow a form subordinate to it. In any event, it doesn't seem like a good candidate for the la- in lakho'ta.
Looking to other Siouan languages we find in Omaha-Ponca a resemblant form (iN)dakkudha '(my) friend'. This is found only in one song, however, and looking like it must be a borrowing or adaptation of something like a Santee form dakho(n=)ya. The normal Omaha-Ponca term for 'man's particular friend' is khage', which is not related.
However, in looking elsewhere in Omaha-Ponca we find a preverb or outer instrumental naa= which would come from Proto-Siouan *Raa= and match Dakotan (Teton) la- exactly. It's called a preverb because it's attached somewhat loosely to the front of a verb. This preverb is an outer instrumental - outer because the inflectional prefixes of the verb follow it, instrumental because it expresses the agency or instrument that accomplishes something. Naa= derives verbs that refer to actions occurring 'by means of heat or through spontaneous action'. It contrasts with naN- from Proto-Siouan *raN-, another instrumental, but this time a prefix - an inner instrumental - because the inflectional pronouns precede it. This second instrumental naN- indicates action performed 'with the foot'. The preverb naa= yields stative verbs like naa'=...kkade 'be hot out' while the prefix naN- yields active verbs, like ...nase' 'to break with the foot'. The naa= statives can be made active by causativizing them.
In Dakotan, interestingly enough, both these senses are indicated with a preverb na(N)=. But this preverb has two different grammatical patterns, depending on its meaning: in the 'by heat' /'spontaneous' meaning it can only be stative (rendered active by a causative if required), while the 'by foot' meanings are active. In short, Dakotan has the same two patterns of semantic and syntactic behavior as Omaha-Ponca, but conceals them under a single morphosyntactic pattern, a preverb na(N)=.
Looking further, in Winnebago, there are no forms comparable to lakho'ta, but the term for 'friend' is hic^akoro', formed on a third person alienable possessive (hic^a- < *i-hta-) of a stem *hkoro or perhaps *kro. The first of these is similar to the Dakotan khola, which could come from *hkoRa. However, as with kho'la and -khota, the relationship would be irregular. Without getting into the details, it's not too surprising to find the friend terms not matching quite correctly to be inherited. Some similar forms are found in other neighboring, but unrelated languages, and the 'friend' terms may be loans into Siouan. When you think about it, 'friend' is a not such a surprising term to borrow.
In the Winnebago instrumentals, there is a division into a daa= preverb, and a naN- prefix, somewhat after the fashion of Omaha-Ponca. The daa= preverb would be from Proto-Siouan *Raa=. This forms covers the sense of action accomplished 'by heat'. The prefix naN- would be from Proto-Siouan *raN-. It indicates action 'by foot'. This should again remind us of the Omaha-Ponca pattern, but here, interestingly, the sense of 'spontaneous' action is associated with the naN- 'foot' form, not the daa= 'by heat' form. As in Dakotan and Omaha-Ponca, the daa= preverb forms statives that can be rendered active by causatization.
Summarizing, it appears then that Proto-Mississippi Valley Siouan had a set of three instrumental meanings 'by heat', 'spontaneously', and 'by foot' associated with at least two forms, a preverb *Raa= and a prefix *raN-. There may have been a third similar form that has disappeared. These three meanings and two or three forms have been sorted out differently in the three languages. Dakotan, in particular, has collapsed all of the forms and meanings into one preverb naN=, but retained all three meanings and two syntactic patterns. Omaha-Ponca and Winnebago have retained two forms, one a stative forming preverb with a 'by heat' meaning and one an active forming prefix with a 'by foot' meaning. But Omaha-Ponca associates the 'spontaneously' meaning with the first form, while Winnebago associates it with the last.
Given this history of simplification, perhaps Teton Dakotan la- (Santee da-) is a relict of an earlier, more *Raa=like phonological variant of the 'heat' preverb. In line with this, observe that lakho'ta also inflects as an infixing stative, consistent with the behavior of the 'by heat' instrumental preverb. Of course, we might also expect any noun stem to be stative, but it would hardly be infixing without some reanalysis.
Thus lakho'ta may mean 'to be a friend by means of heat'. One might well ask, "By means of what heat?" In this connection the name of the theoretical confederacy of Dakotan speakers becomes relevant. This name is Oc^he'thi S^ako'wiN or 'Seven Council Fires', referring to the seven subdivisions of the Dakotas. (There are also, incidentally, seven subdivisions of Tetons, too.) Perhaps, then, la- in the term lakho'ta refers to the ceremonial action of the council fires in establishing or signifying the friendship among the various Lakota (and Dakota) people?
The English (originally French) name of the Teton branch of the Dakota is from the Dakotan word thi'thuNwaN (TEE-too-wah, the last two vowel being nasal). This looks like a compound of thi' 'to dwell', as in thi'pi 'dwelling', and thuNwaN meaning roughly 'village, villagers, dwellers at'. The latter root does not occur as an independent word, but is widely attested in the names of Dakotan groups, and a related form occurs in othuN'wahe 'town'. In spite of appearances, however, it was believed by Dakotas consulted in the 1800s that the first root is actually an irregular modification of thiNl- (pronounced thiNn-), the compounding form of thiN'ta 'prairie'. Hence it would be 'Prairie Dwellers, Prairie Village People'. This form is perhaps cognate with Omaha-Ponca ttaN'de 'ground', cf. Osage htaN'ce 'earth, ground, treeless prairie', though the vowels of the first syllable (Dakota iN, Dhegiha aN) are an irregular correspondence.
Dakotan words that end in unaccented -a historically (not always today) lose that final -a in compounding, reduplication, etc., and the final consonant, if t, changes to l (or d, etc., depending on the dialect, of course). If that l is after a nasal vowel, it is nasalized itself, changing to something like n. So, the presumed historical development is from thiNl'thuNwaN (pronounced thiNn'thuNwaN) to attested thiN'thuNwaN.
This etymology and the observation that the attested form is somewhat irregular in terms of it are from:
I've added the Dhegiha cognate and the explanation of the compounding to clarify the source of the irregularity.
The usual explanation for Teton in the place name Teton Mountains is in terms of a French word teton '(big) breast' from tette 'nipple', compare English teat and its dialect variant tit. The -on is an augmentative suffix. One sometimes wonders to what extent the titilation of it all may have overwhelmed the obvious alternative, to wit, naming the mountains for the Dakota Tetons, but Alan Hartley (p.c.) reports:
From Nathaniel Wyeth's Journal (1832), on the
Web: "stoped on Lewis river and within 20 miles of the Trois Tetons three very
conspicuous snow covered mountains"
It puzzles me that the peaks of mamiferous massifs should always come in threes.
Essentially, it is a Dakotan word (in Teton form) ogla'la meaning 'to scatter one's own', in the context 'people who scatter their own in'. Because the gl cluster has a reduced "uh" vowel (a schwa) in the middle, this may be rendered Ogallala, etc., in English. The underlying stem is kala' 'to scatter'. On this has been formed a reflexive possessive (or suus) stem glala'. One of those things you learn about Dakotan (and other Mississippi Valley Siouan languages) is that adding the prefix ki- REFLEXIVE POSSESSIVE to a verb that starts with the ka- 'by force' instrumental is that the combination comes out gla-. (This is the sort of thing that makes language fun!) Anyway, to glala' has then been added one further prefix, the locative o- meaning 'at something, in something; there'. The complete form ogla'la is 'to scatter one's own in or at something'.
In most accounts of this etymology the derivation isn't explained, and there follows some short story about boys or women having a disagreement and ending up tossing or kicking dirt or some other powdered material at each other.
Louis Garcia explains that while the term has this literal meaning, it is also the regular word in the dialect at Ft. Totten, ND, for what is sometimes called 'finger flicking' in English discussions of Dakota (and neighboring) culture. He says:
Oglala or as is said here, Okdada, means a sign of contempt. Scatters ones own is the sign language sign for this word. You take your thumb and bring it to the tips of your fingers, to make a group of five. Then you flick our wrist quickly outwardly. This means throwing sand or dirt at someone. Upon receiving the sign the oldtimers went for their knifes.
So, in essence, the name seems to mean 'those who make rude gestures'. This is completely in line with the sort of teasing names that various Midwestern Siouan groups attach to each other.
A possible connection here is the Niobrara River. It is generally explained as Omaha-Ponca NiN' Ubdha'dha 'Spreading Water', filtered through French spelling, and now given in English a n English-based spelling pronunciation Nigh-o-BRAY-ruh, but Ubdha'dha, rather than expected Ugdha'dha, is also the Omaha-Ponca name of the Oglala people. This river is more or less the late historical boundary between the Ponca and the Dakota.
The Dakotan term was^i'c^uN (in some localities commonly pronounced was^i'c^u) denominates aliens of European, African, and other non-American origins. The translation 'whiteman' is conventional in English, but arises from a combination of presuming indigenous Europeans and European Americans as the usual referents and of using a color-based terminology in English (and French). In fact, was^i'c^uN and English 'whiteman' are not at all equivalent in etymology. The Dakotan term is probably from s^ic^uN' 'the immortal component of the soul'. The prefix wa- here can be glossed roughly as 'something that is/has (a)...'. Perhaps it was once roughly equivalent to characterizing 'whitemen' as 'ghosts' or 'spirits', based on perhaps on their pale coloring and strange behavior. Or perhaps the idea was that 'whitemen' were magicians who had spirit sponsors whose inspirations accounted for their unusual pattern of behavior.
The was^i'c^uN 'whiteman' term now is conventional and no longer clear to Dakotan speakers. Some folk-etymologize it as was^iN' 'fat' + ic^u' 'to take', or 'he steals (takes) fat'. For some people now was^iN' means primarily 'bacon', leading to a gloss 'he takes bacon'. This is not particularly likely as an original meaning. The problem is the final -c^u(N) sequence, which fits s^ic^uN', but not ic^u'. Admittedly, some speakers do say was^i'c^u, and was^iN + ic^u would probably contract regularly to was^i'c^u, but a fair number of words vary in final nasality across Dakota dialects (including such characteristic morphemes as the diminutive, which is Teton =la and Santee =daN ~ =naN), and the nasal forms seem older in this case.
For discussion, justification and explanation of the etymology of was^ic^uN offered here, see my source:
For that matter, a very similar account is presented in the Riggs and Buechel dictionaries, though Buechel speculated personally about an etymology based on 'one wears bad (clothes)' wa - s^ic^a - ?uN. This seems strained to me, too.
All this said, people seem particularly bothered by the s^ic^uN' analysis and are constantly writing to provide culturally-based explanations that justify the 'fat taker' account. I'm afraid I still find the s^ic^uN' analysis more convincing, but I should make it clear Dakota-speakers generally favor the 'fat taker' account.
It seems likely that the meaning of Cheyenne is something like 'little (or lesser) Cree'. In Teton Dakotan the form is S^ahi'e=la. French Cheyenne is probably from the Santee Dakotan version S^ahi'e=naN. The term S^ahi'a** 'Cree' is apparently not attested in modern Teton or Santee, but it is attested in Mandan and Hidatsa, and in historical Assiniboine. The lack of a transparent etymology in Teton and Santee leads to folk etymologies in terms of *s^a=iye=la (~ =naN) a made-up form 'to speak red(ly)', construed to mean 'to speak obscurely, not clearly', by analogy with the real form iye'=ska 'to speak clearly, to speak the local language, to translate'. The folk etymology, however, is not parallel in structure to iye'=ska - s^a 'red' precedes ska 'white, clear', for example - and does not explain the h or the diminutive. Little irregularities like this often expose a folk etymology for what it is.
Bruce Ingham has pointed out to me that this is undoubtedly related to the Cree term for the Cheyenne, which is kaanehiyawesicik 'ones who speak a little Cree'. Presumably that means 'can understand Cree to some extent'. Cheyenne and Algonquian are both Algonquian languages.
See the discussion by Ives Goddard (and myself) at Wayne Leman's Cheyenne site.
Note: The term S^ahi'e=naN 'Cheyenne' should not be confused with s^aha(N)', a widespread term for Dakota-speakers. The nasalized variants are found in Siouan languages south of the Dakotas, e.g., the Dhegiha languages and Winnebago. Omaha-Ponca has s^aaN', with the medial h elided. Unnasalized variants are found in the Algonquian languages of the Great Lakes area, e.g., Fox as^aaa. Mandan xaNnuNmaNk 'xaN-person' may be related, though Hollow assumes that the xaN here is the one that means 'grass'.
It's a Hidatsa name, from caka'ka [tsah-KAH-kah] meaning 'bird' + wi'a [MEE-ah, WEE-ah] meaning 'woman', hence Caka'kawia 'Bird Woman'. It is quite common for women's names in Siouan language to end in a morpheme meaning 'woman'. (Note that linguists often use c to indicate the ts-sound and I've followed that convention here.) There is a spelling variant Sacajawea that used to be more common in English. This arose as an error by an early editor; Sacagawea is correct. To be more precise, Sacagawea or Sakagawea or Sakakawea and so on are all reasonably correct, given the difficulty of initial ts for English speakers and some variability in spelling the Hidatsa k and i phonemes in English.
The historical Sacagawea was a Shoshone girl who was captured in a slaving raid by Hidatsa when she was about 12. She and a friend (perhaps a relative) captured in the same raid traded hands several times and ended up as wives of Toussaint Charbonneau, a French trader living among the Hidatsa and Mandan. When Lewis and Clark passed through the area they hired Charbonneau to guide their Corps of Discovery in order to get Sacagawea as their Shoshone interpreter. Lewis and Clark were impressed with Sacagawea, as were others who met her, but apparently didn't think much of Charbonneau. They needed him, however, in order to get her, and, of course, to communicate with her, supporting a chain of translation from English to French to Hidatsa to Shoshone. She brought along her newborn son, Jean-Baptiste Charbonneau, whom Lewis had recently helped deliver, sacrificing a rattlesnake tail from his zoological collections to provide a potion someone thought might ease the delivery.
Sacagawea either died c. 1812 at Fort Manuel in what is now South Dakota, of a fever, or lived until 1884, dying on the Wind River Shoshone Reservation in Wyoming. Some people believe that the woman who died in 1884 claiming to be Sacagawea might actually have been the childhood friend (probably a relative) who was captured with her and underwent many of the same experiences. She, too, was Charbonneau's wife, though she remained with the Hidatsa and did not accompany the Corps of Discovery.
While the identification of the historical Sacagawea's name with Hidatsa Caka'kawia is quite adequately grounded in the combination of her Hidatsa connection and the quite exact identity in form of the two names, Alan Hartley has recently provided a further argument. Not only do the journals include variants like Sah-cah-gah-wea, but Lewis also on one occasion writes Sahcargarmeah. The pronunciation of the phoneme w as m occurs commonly initial position in Hidatsa, as in wia 'woman', pronounced [MEE-ah,WEE-ah], and it also occurs internally in carefully syllabified pronunciations. Furthermore, though one can arrive at the meaning of the name from a hypothesis that the name is Hidatsa meaning 'bird woman' by looking in Matthews' Hidatsa Dictionary, Hartley points out that Lewis himself actually explains the name as meaning 'bird woman'. All we've done with the name here is give the details underlying what Lewis himself tells us.
It appears that the childhood Shoshone name of Sacagawea, or at least of the Shoshone woman who died in 1884, may have been Puhinaivi 'Grass (or Brush) Girl', from puhi 'grass, brush' + naivi 'girl'. This is rendered Bonaiv or even Bowie Knife in some sources. The final i of naivi in Puhinaivi is voiceless, which makes it easy to overlook if you aren't expecting it.
There is also some chance that Sacagawea's name for her son, perceived by Lewis and Clark as Pompey in full, but often reported in shortened form as Pomp (another voiceless vowel?), was also Shoshone. Pampi is Shoshone for 'head'. It may have been part of a longer name. Thinking about that delivery, one wonders about 'big head'. The explanation in the literature is that the name was Pompey, the English version of the Latin name Pompeius, and that it was provided by Clark. Pompey, a/k/a Jean-Baptiste Charbonneau, or Baptiste Charbonneau, as he was usually called later, died in 1866 en route to Montana from California.
I'm indebted to Dr. Jean Charney for the suggestions in regard to the Shoshone terms and to John Boyle for confirming my assessment of Sakagawea based on Washington Matthews' Hidatsa Dictionary. They are not , of course, responsible for the use to which I have put their information. The Hidatsa etymology of Sakagawea is actually fairly well known, though there is little comment in the literature on the details. There is a fairly large literature on Sakagawea, fueled by remarkably little real information.
'Squaw' is one of a number of words in English that were borrowed from Eastern Algonquian languages, sometimes via French, during the early contact period. The source in this case is conventionally Massachusett squas (Webster's New World Dictionary, 2nd Edition). The term meant 'young woman' in Massachusett and is attested as early as 1624. In fact, related words derived from Proto-Algonquian *et^kwe:wa (t^ represents a theta - a th sound) 'woman' occur throughout the Algonquian language family. Mostly they're fairly similar to the proto-form and each other (cf. Cree iskwe:w), though in a few languages the descendant form is so modified by accumulated sound changes that only someone familiar with the changes involved would recognize it, e.g., Arapahoe híthei. Bright's useful summary of this cites Cutler 1994 and Goddard 1996, 1997 for the etymology of the term.
Recently 'squaw' has been spuriously associated with a Mohawk term otsískwa? 'female genitalia'. The ? here represents a glottal stop - the sound represented by dash in (h)uh-uh 'no'. This sounds to English ears somewhat like [ojiskwa] (oh-gee-squah in the Lewis & Clark Phonetic Alphabet). Bright says this incorrect explanation was first offered by Sanders & Peck in 1974 and then popularized in a television interview by Suzan Harjo. The terrible salaciousness of it all has outraged the socially sensitive and captured popular imagination so effectively that the long known actual explanation in terms of Massachussett tends to get overlooked.
The etymology is perfectly innocent (see above). The problem with squaw has nothing to do with its etymology. Nigger has a perfectly unobjectionable etymology in Spanish negro 'black', for example. The difficulty with nigger is that it came to embody and represent a discriminatory attitude toward blacks. Similarly, the difficulty with squaw is that it is associated with a discriminatory attitude toward Indian people and sometimes by extension toward women generally.
The pattern of racism associated with squaw is not readily perceived by many people today, especially by non-Indians, perhaps because the word squaw is obsolescent, found mainly in historical literature and movies, or as a fossil in placenames and expressions like squawfish, squaw dance or squaw corn (a term I actually first heard used quite innocently by an Omaha man). It seems inoffensive to many people in these contexts, and they don't see any point in avoiding it, even though the same people would never use a form like nigger, and may instinctively avoid placenames based on such forms, as well as fossil expressions like niggertoes and perhaps even the wholly unconnected word niggardly.
There are some tests that might help clarify matters for you if you believe you are not bothered by squaw. One thing would be to ask yourself if you would feel comfortable referring to a woman you knew with the term. The reference has to be understood as essentially serious, since humor often permits, or at least obscures, insulting usages. Another test would be to consider whether you would willingly use the term, or an expression including it, in front of someone you knew to be an Indian. If you think you would avoid the term in these contexts, you might want to reconsider the proposition that squaw is inoffensive in placenames and other fixed expressions.
A thing is to notice that when English speakers use a specialized noun to refer to one or both of the sexes of another ethnic group, or to the children of that ethnic group, there is generally some sort of conception of special status involved. This might be a perception of higher status (e.g., consider Lord or Lady), but usually it is quite the opposite. The terms themselves need not be especially insulting in origin or meaning. It's the pattern that marks them. At a minimum there is a indication of exclusion, generally combined with an expression of solidarity with the addressee.
There is something of a gradation here - compounds with '-woman' or borrowed feminines are usually not insulting as such, but are generally avoided in direct address or, for most people, even for references to another in their presence. Names (Marie), titles of respect (miss, ma'am), or generics ('this woman', 'this lady' -' that woman', 'that lady' are subtly less polite) have to be used instead. Usages like 'hey, Frenchwoman' or 'hey, Frenchy' or even 'this Frenchwoman' (in her presence) are generally avoided.
Addendum: The SSILA Newsletter 21.1:13 reports that Wisconsin is in the process of purging squaw from its placenames.
Municipalities in Bayfield County have also joined with the National Park Service to change "Squaw Bay" near the Apostle Islands to "Mamikwe Bay," the Ojibwe term for 'weeping woman'. (The renamers apparently didn't realize that -(i)kwe(w) is the Ojibwe cognate of Southeastern New England squaw.)
In the television series The Lone Ranger (ABC, 1949-1957), the Lone Ranger's faithful Indian sidekick Tonto calls the Lone Ranger Kemosabe or Kemo Sabe. The television series was successor to an earlier radio serial, a series of comic books, several films, and, no doubt, a fair number of cereal box offers. The Lone Ranger radio show was a carefully crafted commercial project and as it turned out, quite a successful one. It was developed by Jim Jewell, a producer at WXYZ radio in Detroit, and elaborated by writer Fran Striker at the request of station owner George W. Trendle. The source for the names Kemosabe and Tonto seems to have been the producer Jewell, though Striker later thought he might have contributed Tonto.
In the radio scripts Kemosabe was spelled Kemo Sabay at first and then later Kemo Sabe. Kemosabe is usually glossed 'faithful friend', perhaps mostly in connection with the television series. In modern American English, Kemosabe has come to be used as a jocular form of address, indicating that the speaker perhaps wishes to dissociate himself from the person addressed and his agenda or perhaps just to imply that he is showing a certain lack of insight, as in "Nice try, Kemosabe" or "Why [do] you say 'we', Kemosabe?" The last of these is a common formula, perhaps more familiar in the variant "What do you mean 'we', whiteman?" A surprising number of animals are named Kemosabe. I'm not sure what the connection is there!
Though Kemosabe is generally considered to be Tonto's name for the Lone Ranger, it appears that in early episodes of the radio show, which ran from January 30, 1933 to September 3, 1954, the two characters called each other Kemosabe. This would have to have been after the tenth (or twelfth?) episode (February 25, 1933), in which the character Tonto was introduced. Plot development in a radio show requires dialog, and the production team had come to the conclusion that the Ranger, hitherto lone in fact as well as name, needed a sidekick to dialog with.
There is an interesting parallel here with the conclusions of the Greek poet Aiskhulos (Aeschylus) some 2500 years earlier. In the course of his experiments with the new genre of tragoidia or 'goat song' - in modern English, tragedy - he added a second part - the deuter-agonistes 'second contestant' - to Thespis' existing formula of (prot-)agonistes '(first) contestant' and khoros 'ring dancers' (chorus). Tonto was Striker's permanent deuteragonist, replacing a succession of walk-on townsfolk and old prospectors.
In any event, the word Kemosabe is from an Algonquian language similar to Ojibwe (a complex of related dialects extending from the northern Plains across the Great Lakes into Eastern Canada). Recognition of this has been attributed to Robert Malouf (by the Straight Dope), but Richard Rhodes and probably others working with Ojibwe have noticed it independently. Although most of the discussion here and elsewhere is in terms of Ojibwe, the actual source may have been the closely related Potawatomi language (see below).
The word in question has been explained as 'scout' or 'spy' or even 'masked man'. In the Odawa or Ottawa dialect of Ojibwe the word has the form giimoozaabi. (Doubled vowels are longer.) Giimoozaabi is an independent mode third person singular verb meaning 'he looks in secret'. In Ojibwe a verb form like this like this can be used as a noun, too, so the gloss 'he who looks in secret, a secret looker' is also appropriate.
The verb giimoozaabi, glossed 'to peek', is cited in A Concise Dictionary of Minnesota Ojibwe (Nyholm & Nichols 1995). Richard Rhodes (2002) reports that this term is one of a few words accidentally omitted from the original 1985 edition of his Eastern Ojibwa-Chippewa-Ottawa Dictionary in consequence of a buffer overrun problem in the supporting software. This error unfortunately went undetected until after publication. It is not in the 1993 paperback edition either, contrary to the comment in the publisher's description at Amazon.com. The 1993 edition is an unmodified reprint of the 1985 edition.
The verb giimoozaabi is a typical Algonquian suitcase formation packing a medial verb together with an incorporated modifier initial. The initial, giimood-, is the part that means 'secretly', while -aabi is the medial variant of the verb 'to see'. Compare the independent adverb giimooj 'secretly, on the sly, stealthily' and the conjunct mode (or subordinate clause form) verb waabid 'see' (nwaab 'I see', etc.). Ojibwe verbs are usually cited in the conjunct mode because it is easier to predict other forms from the conjunct mode form. The conjunct of giimoozaabi would be giimoozaabid, for example. However, since conjuncts cannot act as nouns, the independent mode form is cited when a nominal use of the independent mode form is possible.
Other (conjunct) forms with giimood- cited by Rhodes (1985) are giimoodaajmod 'to tell a secret' (compare naajmod 'tell a story in a certain way' - with stem -aajmo- 'tell a story') and giimoojiikwaad 'to sneak up on' (compare naaskwaad 'approach someone' with stem -aaskwaa- 'approach' as opposed to the related stem -iikwaa- in giimoojiikwaad).
As the various examples show, in Ojibwa the initial giimood- has variants giimooj- and giimooz- depending on the medial verb stem that follows. The stem -aabi is one of a limited number that take the variant giimooz-. Otherwise, stems with initial i- take giimooj, and others take the underlying form giimood-.
Aside, in the discussion above I have not carefully distinguished the medial verb stems from the finals that convert them into inflectable transitive-animate (TA), transitive-inanimate (TI), animate-intransitive AI), or inanimate-intransitive (II) verb themes. For example, the actual medial in giimoozaabi is just -aab-, I believe, and the final -i- is the transitive-animate or TA final, since people, not things, are being looked at. For details consult your local Algonquianist. (If he clarifies the situation in Ojibwe, let me know!)
The initial giimood- in giimoozaabi can modify either the things looked at, the manner of the looking, or the person doing the looking. So, giimoozaabi could mean 'spy' - someone looking at a secret thing, 'scout' - someone looking secretly at something, or even 'a masked man' - someone with a secret identity looking out through the eyeholes of a mask. For this reason Richard Rhodes suggests that the term could well have been obtained as a name for the masked Lone Ranger by asking chance-met Ojibwe or Potawatomi speakers in Detroit what they would call such a person.
However, Jim Jewell, the director of the Lone Ranger radio show from its debut on January 30, 1933 until sometime in 1938, reports that he actually got the word Kemosabe from the name of a boy's camp at Mullett Lake, south of Mackinac, Michigan, and that it was he who suggested it to the writer, Fran Striker. The camp had been founded by his father-in-law Charles W. Yeager in 1911 and operated until 1941. It was called Camp Kee-Mo-Sah-Bee, and Kee-Mo-Sah-Bee in the camp name was explained as 'trusty scout', presumably a reference to the state of woods-wise beatitude that boys attending the camp could expect to attain. The modifier 'trusty' in the camp's definition of Kee-Mo-Sah-Bee is an element not present in the original. It is perhaps intended to convey that the 'secret looker' is acting favorably, not inimically - acting for the speaker and not against him. It's a short step from a 'trusty scout' to a 'nasty spy'. I rather suspect that graduates of the camp were encouraged to call each other Kee-Mo-Sah-Bee. Maybe there was a parting ceremony around a campfire in which they were granted this honor?
It appears that the connection between the show and the camp was not as obscure in the 1930s as it has become today. During that period Lone Ranger Camps were reportedly held at Camp Kee-Mo-Sah-Bee, so it appears that, in a sense, the show was a spin-off of the camp. Or at least camp owner Yeager knew a good merchandising tie-in when he saw it.
It's not known where Yeager himself got his word Kee-Mo-Sah-Bee. However, he is reported to have employed a number of Indians at the camp, including at least one Potawatomi man, remembered as Chief Thundercloud from Cross Village. Thundercloud is, in fact, a Potawatomi surname, and Cross Village is a Potawatomi settlement not too far from Mackinac. Potawatomi is another Algonquian language, more or less intermediate between the Ojibwe dialects and the more southerly Fox dialects. So it seems fairly likely that the word Kemosabe was actually provided to Yeager by a Potawatomi source. The Straight Dope site says that Laura Buszard-Welcher (a Potawatomi specialist) reports that there is a form similar to giimoozaabi in Potawatomi. Richard Rhodes (p.c.) says it would be spelled gimozabe in the current orthography for Potawatomi.
As far as that goes, the Alberta Elders' Cree Dictionary includes kiimootaapiwin 'the act of peeking' or 'a Peeking (or Peeping) Tom'. This recognizably employs kiimoot- 'secretly' and -aap-.'to see'. The -iwin is apparently the singular inanimate noun (NI) final. Cree is yet another Algonquian dialect continuum, but north of Ojibwe, so forms with a similar morphology and meaning are apparently fairly widely attested in Great Lakes region Algonquian, though the Potawatomi and Ojibwe versions are more consistent with Kemosabe in form.
The Potawatomi man mentioned above was known as Tonto according to Jewell, who remembered that this meant 'the Wild One'. Jewell implies that this was a Potawatomi word and states that he also provided that name to writer Striker. However, Laura Buszard-Welcher (once again per the Straight Dope) says there is no form like this with that meaning in Potawatomi. Rhodes (1985) gives nothing comparable in Ojibwe, either, as far as I can see.
The closest thing to Tonto in Ojibwe is perhaps dende 'bullfrog', with a nod to Michael McCafferty (p.c.) for suggesting it. A related form occurs in Potawatomi gchidodo (gchi- is 'big', -dodo is the 'frog' part). The form offered here has been respelled in modern fashion by David Costa (p.c.) from Gatchet's fieldnotes.) In fact, in some Algonquian languages 'bullfrog' is actually something like tonto- or dondo-, but, unfortunately for our purposes, the word loses the n in Potawatomi, and changes vowels from o to e in Ojibwe.
Another possibility might be that there is a French form which was in circulation among the Potawatomi that resembles Spansh tonto 'crazy' (see below), and which was a sobriquet of Mr. Thundercloud's. I have not discovered such a French form, however, and I do not know enough about the etymology of Spanish tonto to know it it is reasonable to expect one.
It's possible that Jewell remembered the source of Tonto incorrectly, and that this name was actually contributed by Striker. It may be that Jewell merely suggested for Tonto the model of Mr. Thundercloud, the Potawatomi man he remembered as 'the Wild One'. In any event, the character Tonto is actually identified as Potawatomi in the radio shows and in comic books derived from it. Like Camp Kee-Mo-Sah-Bee, this has been lost sight of in the popular memory, though Lone Ranger aficionados remember it.
Interestingly, the first man to play the role of Tonto on the screen (in 1938) was Victor Daniels, a part Cherokee (or part Creek or maybe non-Indian) actor who actually used the screen name Chief Thunder Cloud. I do not know when he began using this screen name, but he apparently used it on a January 12, 1937 social security application. Since the filming of The Lone Ranger serial ran from November 28, 1937 to December 31, 1937, it appears that he was using it somewhat before he first played the part of Tonto, and that this connection is therefore coincidental.
In a number of places there are reports that Striker claimed that he made up the name Tonto by analogy with the name Gobo or Bobo that he had given a caveman he had created in an earlier radio script. Tonto does not seem particularly similar to either of these names, but the main sources of doubt with respect to this version are the uncertainty regarding the pattern form, and the existence of alternative claims like that by Jewell.
In fact, in the absence of a secure etymology for Tonto elsewhere, the leading contender has been Spanish tonto 'crazy, stupid'. This is somewhat puzzling, because, although the character Tonto is obviously intended to be loyal to a fault, it seems unlikely he would be deliberately characterized as 'stupid'. He's supposed to be a a valued companion of the Ranger. Moreover, the show was aimed at a juvenile audience and was (for its day) very careful to be politically correct. For example, the Ranger always winged villains, rather then killing them. As far as I can tell from discussions on the Web, no references to the meaning of Tonto are made in the early show. It was not explained as Spanish tonto, for example.
However, if the Spanish word was deliberately selected as the source, it was probably the sense 'crazy', or in short, 'wild', that was intended, and not 'stupid'. In that case it may even represent an attempt at rendering the name 'the Wild One' that Jewell had offered his writer. Perhaps Jewell offered the character concept of 'the Wild One', and maybe even a Potawatomi name with this meaning, only to have Striker substitute Tonto for some reason. Later Jewell might have become confused and believed that he had offered the form Tonto with the meaning 'the Wild One'. This would be particularly likely if he had become aware over the years that Tonto actually meant something like 'the Wild One' in some language or other. The Lone Ranger is set in the timeless, but historically rather brief Southwest of popular literature and Hollywood backlots, and the Ranger is, in principle at least, a former Texas Ranger. Jewell and Striker did not necessarily see any difficulty in having a Spanish-nicknamed Potawatomi Indian from Michigan roaming a mythical Southwest, but others may have.
This speculation aside, the Celebriducks Lone Ranger site states without providing an authority that writer Fran Striker actually took the name Tonto from the title of the Zane Grey book Stranger from the Tonto. This sounds promising, but it seems unlikely, since that book was published in 1956, twenty three years after the radio show debuted. In fact, Zane Grey himself died in 1939, so the posthumous Stranger from the Tonto was late on several counts. I have found no explanation of this, but posthumous publications of previous unpublished (or incomplete or rejected) material are fairly common with popular authors.
On the other hand, Grey's Under the Tonto Rim was published in 1926 in plenty of time to have served as inspiration, having been first serialized in the Ladies Home Journal in 1925 as The Bee Hunter. This is about a female welfare agent and various odd characters she meets while working on the Tonto Rim, however, so it provides only the word Tonto and not a Native American association for it.
Zane Grey regularly used Arizona's Tonto Basin - Central Arizona, northeast of Phoenix - and Mogollon (or Tonto) Rim as a setting, and owned a hunting lodge there. It seems fairly plausible that a lot of the research for the Lone Ranger was done in the works of Zane Grey and in other popular fiction which Striker and the others had read, most of which are also set in a rather timeless and generalized West or Southwest. However, it appears that Indians do not figure prominently in Zane Grey's work, especially his Tonto Basin stories. His novels more often deal with lonely, conscience-stricken gunmen who wander the west anonymously doing good to atone for their sins. (Does this sound familiar, Kemosabe?) One of Grey's novels is actually called The Lone Star Ranger, though the main character is the outlaw, and the namesake Texas Ranger is merely the agent of the outlaw's redemption. (Say, that does sound familiar, Tonto!) Striker may well have automatically associated the word Tonto with the abstract conception of the Lone Ranger without knowing why.
Returning, however, to the question of Tonto specifically as a name for an Indian character, we find that there is just such a Native American connection for Tonto, even if it does not appear in the works of Zane Grey. In fact, that Tonto Basin Zane Grey so loved is named for the Tonto or 'Crazy' Apache who once occupied the area. Actually, they're still there, though they tend to get lost in the crowd of newcomers. The expression 'Tonto Apache' is of Apache origin. The term for speakers of Western Apache in the more easterly Chiricahua Apache language is binii?e'dine', and the comparable term in Mescalero Apache is binii?e'dnende'. These both mean 'people without minds', i.e., 'crazy people' or 'wild people'. These or forms like them were rendered in Spanish as tonto(s) 'crazy people', a term which was gradually restricted to the Tonto Apaches, the westernmost of these Western Apache groups. It is possible that "This name may be an allusion to their different way of talking." (HBNAI 13:488).
It seems plausible, then that the character Tonto has to some extent a dual origin - both as a Potawatomi and as a Tonto Apache, that his name may therefore invoke simultaneously both 'the Wild One' and '(the) Wild or Crazy or Tonto Apache'. There is no direct evidence for this at present, however.
Introducing the Tonto Apache people in connection with the name Tonto recalls another proposed etymology of Kemosabe, Yavapai knymsave (kuh-nim-SAH-vay) 'one who is white'. This was proposed by Martha B. Kendall and Alan Shaterian, students of Yavapai. Their suggestion appears in an article in the Smithsonian Magazine c. 1982 by Kendall. I do not have an exact citation for that article. The Tonto Apache are closely associated with the Yavapai, and share a reservation with an interrelated portion of the Yavapai today.
Though the Yavapai were also commonly referred to as Apache in the Nineteenth Century, and are historically associated with the Tonto Apache and some other Western Apache groups, they speak a language of the Yuman family, while Tonto is, as stated, a local dialect of Western Apache, a branch of the unrelated Athabascan or Nadene language family. The Yavapai are scattered across five reservations in Arizona and share several of these with Western Apache groups like the Tonto.
Although the knymsave suggestion is interesting in connection with the word Tonto and a fairly spectacular coincidence, I don't believe it is the actual explanation of Kemosabe. Giimoozaabi is closer in form and fits the available documentation of the origins of Kemosabe. Alan Shaterian (p.c.) has told me that he felt the same when he learned of the giimoozaabi explanation.
At least one other possible Native American expression occurs in connection with the Lone Ranger show. Replies to fan mail (from the radio show?) reportedly contained the salutation Ta-i Kemo Sabe! 'Greetings Trusty Scout (or Faithful Friend)!' While no one has offered to explain Ta-i, it is, at least, not 'Hello' in Ojibwe or Potawatomi. Both languages employ a French loan phrase (bon jour) in that capacity: Ojibwe boozhoo, Potawatomi bozho. Ta-i is also not the hau or ahau found widely in other languages - the Hollywood "how" - though in Siouan languages it sounds rather more like ho or uh-HO. If Ta-i is pronounced tah-EE or ta-EYE, it does very vaguely resemble yatahey (the usual spelling of the English attempt at Navajo yaa?aathe').
See, relative to Tonto and his secretive sidekick, the Lone Ranger:
These are links I have consulted, not a comprehensive listing of Lone Ranger sites. Largent's Lone Ranger Page and Anderson's Victor Daniels site above are good places to look for that.
For information on Zane Grey:
On the linguistics, see:
I'm indebted to Dr. Richard Rhodes for a very painstaking explanation of the Ojibwe vocabulary used above - more detail than I have actually included. I am also indebted to Drs. Michael McCafferty and David Costa for assistance with Algonquian 'frog' terms and Potawatomi orthography. None of the folks cited are responsible for the views expressed above.
You are the 98188th visitor since this subpage was created 06/02/01.
Copyright © John E. Koontz. All rights reserved.