LINGUIST List 3.15

Tue 07 Jan 1992

Disc: Last Posting on Hoosier

Editor for this issue: <>


  1. "Don W.", Hoosier = Hoser?
  2. Susann Luperfoy, 3.5 Hoosier
  3. "Bruce E. Nevin", Hoosier
  4. Geoffrey Nunberg, hoosier

Message 1: Hoosier = Hoser?

Date: Sun, 05 Jan 1992 21:51:09 Hoosier = Hoser?
From: "Don W." <webbdCCVAX.CCS.CSUS.EDU>
Subject: Hoosier = Hoser?

Might "Hoosier" be related to "hoser," as used by the MacKenzie
brothers in their film _Strange Brew_? They seemed to use it in
the same sense as described here earlier...

Don W.
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Message 2: 3.5 Hoosier

Date: Mon, 6 Jan 92 06:31:32 EST3.5 Hoosier
From: Susann Luperfoy <susannstarbase.MITRE.ORG>
Subject: 3.5 Hoosier

Someone from Bloomington gave me a similar
explanation. Indiana rural folk lived in
small cabins and kept to themselves a lot
(like proto-couch potatoes). When someone
came to their door they would shout
"Whose 'er."
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Message 3: Hoosier

Date: Mon, 6 Jan 92 09:07:47 ESTHoosier
From: "Bruce E. Nevin" <>
Subject: Hoosier

Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable says:

	Probably from _hoosier_, a mountaineer, an extension of
	_hoojee_, _hoojin_, a dirty person or tramp. The south
	of Indiana was mainly settled by Kentucky mountaineers.

Any info on a Native American source for hoojee or hoojin?

An friend of Czech extraction told me (30 years ago) that she thought
"honkie" was from Slavic "hunky" (her pronunciation) meaning something
like today's "hunk" (as in "Isn't he a gorgeous hunk!)--i.e. strong,
virile man, borrowed into Black English in Chicago from probably
Polish, there turned around as an epithet for white folks in general.
Thence also honky-tonk?

	Bruce Nevin
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Message 4: hoosier

Date: Mon, 6 Jan 1992 11:37:25 hoosier
From: Geoffrey Nunberg <>
Subject: hoosier

Well since you mention it, the matter of "hoosier" was in the news a couple
of years ago, and I did a piece about it on the NPR program "Fresh Air."
If you are sitting comfortably I will repeat it here.

	The great Hoosier hubbub began in March of 1987, when New York
Senator Alfonse D'Amato predicted on the Senate floor that his alma mater
Syracuse would beat the Indiana Hoosiers handily in the NCAA basketball
finals the following day. He went on to note that Merriam Webster's Third
International Dictionary defined hoosier not only as "a native of Indiana,"
but as an "an ignorant rustic."
	But Bobby Knight's Hoosiers squeaked out the game by one point,
behind Steve Alford's outside shooting. And the next day Indiana's junior
senator Dan Quayle took the floor to congratulate the Indiana team, and
also to propose that the Senate adopt a nonbinding resolution that would
redefine the word hoosier: "Be it resolved that a Hoosier is someone who is
smart resourceful, skillful, a winner and brilliant."
	All of this sounds like routine Senatorial high jinks, but Quayle was
apparently in earnest. According to a story that appeared in the
Washington Post a few weeks ago, he wrote to William Llewellyn, the
president of the Merriam-Webster Company, and asked that the offending
definition of Hoosier be removed and that his own definition be substituted
in its place. Llewellyn explained that dictionaries were in the business
of reporting the way words are actually used, and that if Quayle could
persuade the rest of America to take up the new use of the word,
Merriam-Webster would be delighted to include it in the next edition. When
last heard from, Quayle's office was promising to continue the battle, and
was threatening to ban Webster's Third from its bookshelves.
	As it happens, Midwesterners have been using the word hoosier as a
pejorative since the nineteenth century. According to St. Louis
Post-Dispatch columnist Elaine Viets, in Missouri a hoosier is "a low-life
redneck," somebody you can recognize because, as she puts it, "they have a
car on concrete blocks in their front yard and are likely to have shot
their wife, who may also be their sister."
	The best guess is that hoosier is derived from a British dialect
word hoozer, meaning "big or large." As early as 1832, the word was used
in America to refer to a large or burly person; from there it was a short
step to meaning "a big rustic, a galoot." This is probably what led to its
use to refer to Indianans. In the 19th century there seems to have been a
disparaging nickname for the inhabitants of just about every state. Texans
were called Beetheads, Alabamans were Lizards, Nebraskans were Bug-eaters,
South Carolinans were Weasels, and Pennsylvanians were Leatherheads. If
it's any consolation to Senator Quayle, in fact, he could point out to Ms
Viets that folks from Missouri used to be known by the endearing name of
Pukes. Originally, these names may have been applied by the inhabitants of
neighboring states, but most of them were adopted by the natives in a
spirit of rough frontier humor: "You bet I'm a Bug-eater, son, and proud of
	Nowadays, only a few of these nicknames survive, usually for the
sports teams of state universities: Tarheels, Buckeyes, and so on. But
these aren't fighting words anymore. Apart from Hoosier, the only
nicknames that still have any pejorative associations are Okies and Georgia
Crackers. (Some people say that Cracker is a shortened version of
corn-cracker, and others that it's from an old slang word for "liar." Both
could be right.) The rest of the nicknames seem to have fallen victim to
fastidiousness or to chamber-of-commerce boosterism. When you're touting
the superior educational levels of your labor force in an effort to win a
Supercollider for your state, you're not going to refer to them as
"beetheads." Then too, the ease of mobility and homogenized culture of
modern America have tended to smoothe out all these regional identities.
C. Vann Woodard notwithstanding, we've come quite a way since the days when
Thomas Jefferson could refer to Virgina as "my country." You come to think
there are no differences at all anymore: Buckeyes, Lizards, Weasels,
Leatherheads, and all the rest of us, all in sitting around in our Air
Jordans, eating frozen yoghurt, watching "Entertainment Tonight." Except
there's something different about the Hoosiers when they get to the
three-point line.
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