Americanism: Honest Injun?

Discussion in 'English Only' started by Setwale_Charm, Oct 14, 2006.

  1. Another Americanism the meaning of which is not quite clear to me. Is there such a word as "injun" or is it a contraction of something else? What does it mean?
  2. Old Novice

    Old Novice Senior Member

    USA, English
    It's an old phrase, a contraction of "Honest Indian?" meaning "you really mean it?" Not much used any more, given the sensitivity that has arisen around the word "Indian" to describe the people who were here before the Europeans arrived (and who now are usually referred to as "Native Americans").
  3. Thanks, Old Novice. So I see this is a term to be better avoided.
  4. mplsray Senior Member

    It's still worthwhile to know what it was intended to convey. Not only was it used to mean "Do you really mean it?" in response to a statement by another, but it was also used by the speaker after he made a statement, with the meaning "What I'm telling you is the truth!"

    I think the problem was not so much with the use of Indian to refer to a Native American--many Native Americans in fact prefer that term--but the colloquial, slurred form of it, and how that form was used. It seems to me that it is associated mainly with non-Indians who were hostile to Indians--others would tend to pronounce Indian more distinctly. I think there may also be a problem with the saying's implication that the average Indian is not honest.
  5. foxfirebrand

    foxfirebrand Senior Member

    The Northern Rockies
    Southern AE greatly modified by a 1st-generation Scottish-American mother, and growing up abroad.
    You've identified the exact problem with this expression.

    It was common in the 19th century, and reflected the skepticism of white people. Indians recruited for scouting were regarded as possible renegades until they had "proven themselves" many times over. When that happened, he was an "honest injun" as opposed to-- well, the rest of em.

    When such a man found himself elsewhere, in a bargaining situation for example, or applying for wage work, he might thump his chest and declare himself with pride or indignation, using that phrase.

    Well, the situation I just described has movie vibes, and is about as trite as the offensive expression. But Indians in interactions with whites had to profess their sincerity, because the basic assumption was that they were untrustworthy.

    As if they had any reason to trust white people! Well, when you're vastly outnumbered you have to humor the majority, and that's why the phrase is tainted with indignity.

    White people used it in their own interactions, in a jocular and mocking manner-- that of course adds another layer to the bad karma that encrusts this expression.

    So I'd advise learners to retire "honest injun" or just leave it be-- it's history.

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