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User Name Thread Name Subject Posted
GUEST,Lighter BS: Name for people from USA (123* d) RE: BS: Name for people from USA 04 Sep 13


Current PC wisdom has it that members of the ethnicity formerly known as "Eskimos" are revolted by that name and must be called "Inuit" instead.

The reasoning (if I may use that word) is that "Eskimo" is plausibly (but not certainly) derived from a Cree Indian (I mean, of course, "Cree Native American") word meaning, derogatorily, "eater of raw meat." An equally plausible theory, however, is that the Cree word meant "wearer of netted snowshoes," which would be hard to argue with.

Whether the "Eskimos" were aware of this and objected to it, or whether they were encouraged to object by tenured non-Eskimo academics, I do not know. Either way, though, only the most rarified academic of any ethnicity is likely to know that "Eskimo," in different form, might once have meant "eater of raw things" in a mom-Eskimo, non-English language.

As a word in English, "Eskimo" does not and has never meant "eater of raw meat." It means "a member of various related circumpolar ethnic groups of Mongoloid [of course I mean "Asian"] stock, whose members are believed to prefer being called 'Inuit.'"

In English, "Eskimo" is neutral. And it would seem to be neutral to plenty of Inuit, too, because it remains widely used by the people in question themselves in Alaska, if not in Canada and Greenland.

More fun: "Inuit" means "The People." In Alaska, the Yupik and Inupiat, who are as Eskimo as anyone, are said to find "Inuit" offensive, because it means "The People" in a foreign (non-Yupik, non-Inupiat) language. Isn't that an insult? Shouldn't everyone know that "Yupik" and "Inupiat" mean "a real person" in the respective languages? If you are not a Yupik or Inupiat (or an Inuit) should you assume and become annoyed that you are being told you are not a "real person"? Your choice, my friends.

Ethnic groups should be called what they want to be called. However, it is not always obvious what "they," or which *of* them, do want to be called. The flip side of honoring the wishes of the designated is to understand that

A: etymology (like the uncertain etymology of "Eskimo") has little or no bearing on current understanding or usage unless somebody with too much education to be useful insists that it does, and

B: it perfectly understandable for members of foreign ethnic groups to have not the faintest idea of what others would rather be called, and that most foreigners will continue to use whatever they believe is a neutral term no matter how often you scold them. And for most non-Inuit, "Eskimo" and "Inuit" are equally neutral terms.

Consider too, ye reformers: In German, Germans are "Deutsch." So shouldn't we call them that in English amd every other language? If not, why not? "German" isn't even German, it's Latin (and the Romans hated and feared the Germans. What's more, Caesar was supposedly told by the Teutonic Remi that "Germani" (or the Germanic equivalent) was what Teutons/Germans called themselves beyond the Rhine. But it looks like only the Tungri called themselves the Germani (before changing their name -for some unknown reason).

Confused? Better to leave well enough alone.

If you can figure out what "well enough" is.


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