Date: Fri, 17 Oct 1997 11:46:58 -0600

From: charles fritz juengling cjuengling[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]STCLOUDSTATE.EDU

Subject: Re: Etymology of _Hoosier_

Well, while we're on favorites for folk etymologies of 'Hoosier,' how about

this one?

The hard-drinkin', quick-to-fight, rough-and-ready backwoodsmen of early

Indiana apparently had a thing or to to teach Mike Tyson since biting off

body parts was such a common accompaniment to fisticuffs that after a fight

one might look around on the floor and say 'Whose ear'?

This is now my new 'favorite' etymology for hoosier.

Why is folk etymology so much more rewarding than the truth?

I don't think 'rewarding' is the right word. How about 'entertaining'? (I

think we are understanding 'folk etymologies' as being incorrect--as least

for this discussion.) When I suggested the 'Who's here' explanation, I

didn't expect that anyone would believe it. Of course I don't believe

it--any more than the 'whose ear' explanation. These explanantions are so

ludicrous that they are funny- they are nothing more than jokes (Does

anyone know the FE of 'Savannah' GA?). However, they do serve several

important purposes besides fun. First, they give insight into how peple

think and what they think about language. Second, they keep us on our

toes. Otherwise, we might believe what we see in print without questioning

it. Case in point--the Cumberland explanation as found in the DA. I don't

find this etymology convincing either (yet). For Cumberland 'hoozer' to be

the source of 'hoosier', several things must be shown. First, how do you

get from [z] to [zh]? Of course, the phonetic distance from [z] to [zh] is

almost nothing. But something should be said about that. There is no

evidence in the EDD for [zh];The _SED: the Dictionary and Grammar_ also

offers no help. So, it seems that the pronunciation with [zh] must have

arisen in the US. But under what influence? When? Where?

Second, how did an obscure Cumberland word become the name of people in a

state in the US? Where there a lot of Cumberlanders in Indiana? If not,

how did it get to Indiana? Third, how did a word for 'large' come to

describe an Indianan? Are folks from Indiana exceptionally large?

To summarize, with every etymology, one must explain both the phonetic and

semantic changes. Also, when giving an etymology in a colonial dialect, one

must also explain the word's course of travel.

Fritz Juengling

Dept of Foreign Languages

St. Cloud State University

St. Cloud, Minnesota

Mitford Mathews cracked this etymological nut on page 830 of his

_Dictionary of Americanisms_, wherein he indicates its most probable

source as _hoozer, "very large" in the dialect of Cumberland, northern


DARE attests the term quite widely and early outside Indiana. Indeed,

until the mid-20th century, mountaineers in Tennessee and North Carolina

were called _hoosiers_. How the term has come to be associated with

Indianans is a more recent but intriguing story.

Michael Montgomery

Dept of English

Univ of South Carolina

Columbia SC 29208

My favorite explanation appeares in Schele de Vere's _Americanisms_. He

reports that "Hoosier" came about because of the way people there

(Indiana) said "Who's here?"

Fritz Juengling

Dept of Foreign Languages

St Cloud State University


Fritz Juengling

Foreign Languages and Literature Department

St. Cloud State University

Dennis R. Preston

Department of Linguistics and Languages

Michigan State University

East Lansing MI 48824-1027 USA


Office: (517)353-0740

Fax: (517)432-2736

Fritz Juengling

Foreign Languages and Literature Department

St. Cloud State University