I've heard it recently in a movie called " Lone Ranger". Tonto called the lone ranger kemosabe. What does it mean and what is the origin?

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    Some interesting suggestions available on line.
    – user52780
    Commented Oct 4, 2013 at 21:20
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    There is just to much complication. Couldn't find a reliable source. Every site is saying something different. Commented Oct 5, 2013 at 4:52

1 Answer 1


This article in Slate states:

The phrase has stumped scholars and Lone Ranger fans alike for years, and there appears to be no conclusive evidence as to its true definition or its roots.

However, another site (written by a specialist in Siouan languages) asserts:

The word Kemosabe is from an Algonquian language similar to Ojibwe (a complex of related dialects extending from the northern Plains across the Great Lakes into Eastern Canada).

The word in question has been explained as 'scout' or 'spy' or even 'masked man'. In the Odawa or Ottawa dialect of Ojibwe the word has the form giimoozaabi. (Doubled vowels are longer.) Giimoozaabi is an independent mode third person singular verb meaning 'he looks in secret'. In Ojibwe a verb form like this like this can be used as a noun, too, so the gloss 'he who looks in secret, a secret looker' is also appropriate.

The site provides fairly lengthy discussion that's worth a read.

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    Interesting stuff. I always just thought both names were taken from Spanish. "Tonto" meaning "Stupid" and "Quien No Sabe" meaning "He Who Doesn't Know". Commented Oct 5, 2013 at 5:58
  • @TJY The correct translation of 'he who doesn't know' in Spanish is 'El que no sabe'. But this doesn't mean it wasn't a naive Spanglish translation.
    – Merk
    Commented Oct 18, 2013 at 7:30

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