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Ke-mo sah-bee (//; often spelled kemo sabe or kemosabe) is the term of endearment and catchphrase used by the intrepid and ever-faithful fictional Native American sidekick Tonto, in the very successful American radio and television program The Lone Ranger.
Ultimately derived from giimoozaabi, an Ojibwe and Potawatomi word that probably meant "scout", it is sometimes translated as "trusty scout" or "faithful friend". Its use has become so widespread that it was entered into Webster's New Millennium Dictionary in 2002.
Fran Striker, writer of the original Lone Ranger radio program, spelled the word "ke-mo sah-bee." However, the spelling kemo sabe (or kemosabe) is by far the most common in popular culture, receiving approximately 180,000 hits on Google search in April 2011, as opposed to ke-mo sah-bee's 15,800. The word was entered into Webster's New Millennium Dictionary (edited by Barbara Ann Kipfer) in 2002 under the spelling "kemosabe."
There are many theories about the origin and meaning of this word. A common story is that it derives from a Spanish phrase such as "Quien sabe" or "quien no sabe," meaning "who knows?" or "he who does not know". This is implausible because Jim Jewell, director of The Lone Ranger from 1933 to 1939, took the phrase from Kamp Kee-Mo Sah-Bee, a boys' camp on Mullett Lake established by Charles W. Yeager (Jewell's father-in-law) in 1916. Yeager himself probably took the term from Ernest Thompson Seton, one of the founders of the Boy Scouts of America, who had given the meaning "scout runner" to Kee-mo-sah'-bee in his 1912 book "The Book of Woodcraft and Indian Lore".
Kamp Kee-Mo Sah-Bee was in an area inhabited by the Ottawa, who spoke a dialect of Ojibwe. John D. Nichols and Earl Nyholm's A Concise Dictionary of Minnesota Ojibwe defines the Ojibwe word giimoozaabi as "he peeks" (and, in theory, "he who peeks"), making use of the prefix giimoo(j)-, "secretly"; Rob Malouf, now an associate professor of linguistics at San Diego State University, suggested that "giimoozaabi" may indeed have also meant scout (i.e., "one who sneaks").