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Hoosier // is the official demonym for a resident of the U.S. state of Indiana. Although residents of most U.S. states typically adopt a derivative of the state name, e.g., "Indianan" or "Indianian", these derivatives are not officially used to refer to natives of Indiana. Indiana adopted the nickname "Hoosier State" more than 150 years ago. "Hoosiers" is also the nickname for the Indiana University athletic teams. Hoosier is sometimes used in the names of Indiana-based businesses and organizations. In the Indiana High School Athletic Association, seven active athletic conferences and one disbanded conference have the word Hoosier in their name.
In other parts of the country, the word has been adapted to other uses. In St. Louis, Missouri, the word is used in a derogatory fashion similar to "hick" or "white trash". "Hoosier" also refers to the cotton-stowers, both black and white, who move cotton bales from docks to the holds of ships, forcing the bales in tightly by means of jackscrews. A low-status job, it nevertheless is referred to in various sea shanty lyrics. Shanties from the Seven Seas includes lyrics that mention hoosiers. Hoosier at times can also be used as a verb meaning to trick or swindle someone.
The etymology of hoosier is unclear, but it has been used since at least 1830. According to Bill Bryson, there are many suggestions for the derivation of the word, but none is universally accepted. Jacob Piatt Dunn, longtime secretary of the Indiana Historical Society, noted that "hoosier" was frequently used in many parts of the South in the 19th century for woodsmen or rough hill people. He traced the word back to "hoozer," from the Cumberland dialect of England. This derives from the Anglo-Saxon "hoo", meaning high or hill. In Cumberland, "hoozer" meant anything unusually large, such as a hill. Immigrants from Cumberland settled in the southern mountains (Cumberland Mountains, Cumberland River, Cumberland Gap, etc.). Their descendants brought the name with them when they settled in the hills of southern Indiana.
Smith found that the 1826 letter by James Curtis cited by Dunn and others as the first known use of the term was actually written in 1846, and an 1827 diary entry by Sandford and Son (published in a newspaper in 1859) was likely an editorial comment and not from the original diary. Smith theorizes the word originated in the Ohio River commerce culture as a term for Indiana farmer flat-boatmen and did not become an insult until 1836.
Fisk University history professor William Piersen suggests that followers of preacher Harry Hoosier were the original "Hoosiers". Harry Hoosier was a black itinerant Methodist minister who evangelized throughout the American frontier at the beginning of the 19th century. Piersen writes, "Such an etymology would offer Indiana a plausible and worthy first Hoosier – 'Black Harry' Hoosier – the greatest preacher of his day, a man who rejected slavery and stood up for morality and the common man."
The term came into general usage in the 1830s. John Finley of Richmond, Indiana, wrote a poem, "The Hoosier's Nest", which was published in 1833 and was used as the "Carrier's Address" of the Indianapolis Journal, January 1, 1833. It was generally accepted as a term for Indiana residents by the 1840s, and as it came into common usage, the debates about the term's origin began.
In 1900, author Meredith Nicholson wrote The Hoosiers, an early attempt to study the origins of the word as applied to Indiana residents. Jacob Piatt Dunn published The Word Hoosier in 1907, a serious study into the origin of the term Hoosier as a term for the citizens of Indiana. Nicholson and Dunn both chronicled some of the popular, satirical origins of the word (see below). Nicholson, however, had also defended against an explanation that the word "Hoosier" was applied to Indiana because it referred to uncouth country folk. Dunn, by contrast, concluded that Indiana settlers adopted the word as a humorous nickname, and that the negative connotation had already faded when John Finley wrote his poem.
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This idea suggests the term was a greeting. When approaching a man's home in those early frontier days, one shouted from afar, "Hello, the cabin!" to avoid being shot. The inhabitants would then shout back "Who'sh 'ere?" (who's here). Soon the words became slurred together, and the country folk came to be called Hoosiers. "The History of Indiana" High School textbook used during the 60's in Wells County stated a variation of this idea to reference the source of the word, "Hoosier". When a person heard a rustle in the bushes around them, they would call out "Who'sh 'ere?" fearing for their lives and to avoid shooting a friend or family member in error. As this practice prevailed, the people gradually came to be known as "Hoosiers."
A variant of this story combines "Who's" and "your", such as in "Who'sh yer 'ma?". Additionally, the poet James Whitcomb Riley facetiously suggested that the fierce brawling that took place in Indiana involved enough ear biting that the expression "Whose ear?" was common enough to be notable.
Many Indiana social studies teachers tell a story of two French men that had migrated to Indiana in the 1800s. They were in an old-time tavern somewhere in the foothills of southern Indiana. A fight broke out between the two, which led to one of the men getting an ear cut off. The story says that a third French man walked in to see an ear on the dirt floor of the tavern and shouted "Who'sh ear?"
A contractor reportedly named Samuel Hoosier preferred to hire workers from Indiana during the construction of the Louisville and Portland Canal (1826–1831) in Louisville. His employees became known as "Hoosier's men" and finally just "Hoosiers". Since Indiana was first settled in its southern tier (the state's second capital, Corydon, is in the south near the Ohio River), it is hypothesized that the name was carried as the population expanded northward in the state.
This story is reported by Dunn (1907:16-17) as being told in 1901 by a man who heard this story from a Hoosier family member while traveling in southern Tennessee. However, Dunn's research could find no one in southern Tennessee who had heard the story or any family of that name in any directory in the region. In spite of Dunn's skepticism, this version has been accepted by Evan Bayh, who has served as Indiana governor and senator, and by Senator Vance Hartke, who introduced this story into the Congressional Record (1975), according to Graf.
A similar story involves the National Road, which began in Cumberland, Maryland, and slowly extended westward, reaching Indiana in 1829-1834. As plans were made to extend the highway to Richmond, Indiana, the call went out for laborers. Knowing that the federal government would pay "top dollar", the employees of a contractor in the Indiana Territory reportedly named Robert Hoosier asked their boss if they could go work for this higher wage in the neighboring state of Ohio. Mr. Hoosier gave his consent, asking them to return to work for him when this section of the road was done.
Just as in the Sam Hoosier story, the crew of Indiana workers proved to be industrious, conscientious, and efficient. The federal foreman referred to the group as "Hoosiers" meaning they were workers that Robert Hoosier had allowed to join the national work crew. It was not long before people along the National Road used the term to refer to the people living in the territory to the west.
This story is not mentioned in Dunn’s or Mencken’s research, but if there were such a contractor and such events, they would have taken place after the term "Hoosier" was already well established in Appalachia and was becoming attached to Indiana.
In this story, a veteran of the Napoleonic wars, Col. John Jacob Lehmanowsky, settled in Indiana later in life and gave lectures on the "Wars of Europe" in which he extolled the virtues of the hussars, which his audience heard as "hoosiers". Young men wishing to identify with these virtues called themselves Hoosiers, enough of them that eventually all people of Indiana were called Hoosiers.
Weaknesses of this story include the unlikely mispronunciation of hussar as Hoosier and the fact that Lehmanowsky did not come to Indiana until 1833, by which time the term was already well established.
Possibly a link with the German word Hausierer, meaning travelling salesman or solicitor of news. Word originates from walking "from house to house" (German: Haus).
A Hoosier cabinet, often shortened to "hoosier", is a type of free-standing kitchen cabinet popular in the early decades of the twentieth century. Almost all of these cabinets were produced by companies located in Indiana. The name is derived from the largest of them, the Hoosier Manufacturing Co. of New Castle, Indiana.
As the athletic nickname of Indiana University Bloomington, the Hoosier is the subject of debate, primarily concerning the term's meaning and origin. As there is no physical embodiment of a Hoosier, IU is represented through their letters and colors alone.
Thomas E. Murray carefully analyzed the use of "hoosier" in St. Louis, Missouri, where it is the favorite epithet of abuse. "When asked what a Hoosier is," Murray writes, "St. Louisans readily list a number of defining characteristics, among which are 'lazy,' 'slow-moving,' 'derelict,' and 'irresponsible.'" He continues, "Few epithets in St. Louis carry the pejorative connotations or the potential for eliciting negative responses that hoosier does." He conducted tests and interviews across lines of age and race and tabulated the results. He found the term ecumenically applied. He also noted the word was often used with a modifier, almost redundantly, as in "some damn Hoosier."
In a separate section Murray speaks of the history of the word and cites Baker and Carmony (1975) and speculates on why Hoosier (in Indiana a "neutral or, more often, positive" term) should remain "alive and well in St. Louis, occupying as it does the honored position of being the city's number one term of derogation." A radio broadcast took up where Murray left off. During the program Fresh Air, Geoffrey Nunberg, a language commentator, answered questions about regional nicknames. He cited Elaine Viets, a Post-Dispatch columnist (also quoted by Paul Dickson), as saying that in St. Louis a "Hoosier is a low-life redneck, somebody you can recognize because they have a car on concrete blocks in their front yard and are likely to have just shot their wife who may also be their sister."—Jeffrey Graff, The Word Hoosier
These last three points seem to carry the implication that "hoosier" may have been used as an insult in other parts of the country.