"Not Southern Scorn but Local Pride": The Origin of the Word Hoosier and Indiana’s River Culture

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Jonathan Clark Smith

Abstract

Discovering the origins of Indiana’s mysterious nickname “hoosier” requires a knowledge of when the word first came into use. Most standard reference works (including the Oxford English Dictionary) erroneously cite as the first known writing of the word a letter written in Missouri in 1826. The error is significant because such an early reference, from a site so far west, gives credence to the assumption of Jacob P. Dunn (writing roughly a hundred years ago) that the word had been a term of contempt in general use in the South before it became specific to inhabitants of Indiana. Dunn’s work is still regarded as the most authoritative on this topic, and his assumptions form the basis for current conventional wisdom. While my own research is more indebted to Dunn’s than at odds with it, my findings also demonstrate that his fundamental assumptions about the age and generalized use of the word bear questioning. In particular, my discovery of two previously unnoticed print references helps refocus attention on details that suggest that the term originated around 1830 with specific reference to Indiana farmer-river boatmen; the more generalized and contemptuous use came later.

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How to Cite
Smith, J. (2018). "Not Southern Scorn but Local Pride": The Origin of the Word Hoosier and Indiana’s River Culture. Indiana Magazine of History, 112(3), 238-249. Retrieved from https://scholarworks.iu.edu/journals/index.php/imh/article/view/25484
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