The phrase "Indian giver" means someone who gives a person a gift and then wants it back later. It's occasionally a useful concept, but the dictionary says it's offensive and I also think so. Is there a non-racist way to say this?

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    There doesn't seem to be a word that really covers this exact act. There's disavow, repossess, repudiate, and so on - but none of those really mean the same thing as indian giver. Since indian giver is offensive and racist, I'd suggest 'ungifting'.
    – Jason M
    Commented Jun 26, 2015 at 22:22
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    I'd also suggest that this is a polite or un-offensive term rather than a politically correct one. Political correctness means speech that is correct according to liberal/progressive goodthink, this is simply trying not to be an insensitive jerk.
    – Jason M
    Commented Jun 26, 2015 at 22:25
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    I'm BrE, where an Indian is more likely to be something you go for after the pub (to eat, in an Indian curry house). I doubt we have enough thin-skinned native Amerinds that anyone would think to avoid that one. I think of it as on a par with Dutch auction (I don't care if that offends the Dutch! :). On the other hand, although I've known Welsh people to use welsh on a deal = renege, I've no doubt there are some who take exception. It's all a matter of opinion, and whether you want to play safe or not. Commented Jun 26, 2015 at 22:25
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    @FumbleFingers Usually spelled Welch in a betting sense, but I note the OED accepts Welsh as well. 2008 G. Buckley Stormy Weather 140 ‘A bet's a bet,’ Paddy said. ‘Y'aint thinking of welching on me, are ya?’..‘Me, welch?’ Remy said and chuckled again. Where have you been, by the way - taking French leave?
    – WS2
    Commented Jun 26, 2015 at 22:54
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    @FumbleFingers As long as I offend everyone equally, it's not discrimination. I'm an American; it's the national pastime. Commented Jun 26, 2015 at 23:13

8 Answers 8


In law, the standard verbs for undoing a gift, contract, or other undertaking previously entered into are rescind, revoke, abrogate, and annul. Their relevant definitions, per Merriam-Webster's Eleventh Collegiate Dictionary, are as follows (in alphabetical order):

abrogate vt 1 : to abolish by authoritative action : ANNUL 2 : to treat as nonexistent {abrogating their responsibilities} [no noun form listed for "one who abrogates"]

annul vt 3 : to declare or make legally invalid or void {wants the marriage annulled} [no noun form listed for "one who annuls"]

rescind vt 2 a : TAKE BACK, CANCEL {refused to rescind the order} b : to abrogate (a contract) and restore the parties to the positions they would have occupied had there been no contract ... — rescinder n

revoke vt 1 : to annul by recalling or taking back : RESCIND {revoke a will} ... — revoker n

Unfortunately, the only two usable noun forms for these four verbs are rescinder and revoker, neither of which is at all common in everyday English.

An even more relevant verb might be renege, understood in the following sense:

renege vi 3 : to go back on a promise or commitment — reneger n

But reneger, while objectively a good fit for your context, is rarely used and puts you at risk of being misunderstood and upsetting people in a different (but no less deeply felt) way.

Since there isn't a truly satisfactory way to express what you mean in a simple word or phrase ("taker-back" doesn't work either, in my opinion), you're probably best off to describe the situation in as much detail as you need—and then say something like "that's what I call a 'gift ungiver' [or a 'gift reclaimer' or whatever wording strikes your fancy]."

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    Well then, how would the term "aboriginal abrogater" go over?
    – user98990
    Commented Jun 27, 2015 at 0:31
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    @LittleEva: I'm pretty sure you wouldn't get away with it for long, but it has a nice bit of elevated alliteration going for it.
    – Sven Yargs
    Commented Jun 27, 2015 at 1:57
  • Let's keep it between us, then.
    – user98990
    Commented Jun 27, 2015 at 1:58
  • So you agree that there is no politically correct synonym.
    – user66974
    Commented Jun 27, 2015 at 5:59
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    @Josh61: I can't think of one that's in widespread use. Depending on the situation, you might try to convey the meaning with a term like "yo-yo giver," which suggests the action of casting something toward someone else (as if to give it to them) only to yank it back into your own hand by the still-attached string. But that term isn't altogether clear, and it is not in common use as far as I know.
    – Sven Yargs
    Commented Jun 27, 2015 at 6:55

How about de-gifter, like in Seinfeld?

From Fandom:

De-gifting is the act of taking a gift back.


The saying appears to originate from a misconception. I don't think there is a politically correct synonym , probably the best way is to express the concept with its common definition without any reference to any race:

  • a person who asks for the return of a present he has given.

Indian giver: (US and Canadian)

  • (usage): This term, though not commonly used, is usually perceived as insulting. It arose from a misconception about the customs of Native Americans.

(The Free Dictionary)

  • I'm told people who take offence at to welsh on a deal are also labouring under a misconception, but that doesn't automatically make them not be offended once they've had this explained to them. So I don't really see this as a suitable answer for OP's problem. Commented Jun 26, 2015 at 23:08
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    My answer is that there is no "politically correct" synonym to Indian giver and that its common definition without reference to any race is a possible alternative.
    – user66974
    Commented Jun 26, 2015 at 23:19

According to this National Public Radio article titled The History Behind the Phrase ‘Don’t Be An Indian Giver’,

But where did the concept of "Indian giving" really come from? Was there actually an instance when a white settler was presented with a gift, only to have it taken away?

The answer to that is... not really. What white settlers thought was rudeness and a lack of generosity was mostly likely rooted in a series of cultural misunderstandings.

The concept of an "Indian gift" or an "Indian giver" traces its roots back to at least the 1700s. In his 1765 History of the Province of Massachusetts Bay, "Thomas Hutchinson defined an Indian gift as a present "for which an equivalent return is expected.”.

They go on to quote Lewis & Clark in 1804, where in their writings they promulgate further stereotypes about native Americans, and then say it first appeared in the Dictionary of Americanisms in 1848.

The article doesn’t give any alternatives—what the OP is looking for. The article does mention the Seinfeld episode where Jerry explores the offensiveness of this term in-depth, however.


It might be better to describe the action. Like "He took the gift back," or "Oh--I didn't realize this was a loan and not a gift."


  • Be polite
  • Assume good intentions
  • Express disappointment politely
  • If reasonable, willingly give the gift back
  • If appropriate, consider this a teaching opportunity (e.g. for your child, explain it's not OK to give things away and take them back).
  • Call it a loan. Because that's how the giver is treating it. This implies the correct term for the future.

I would avoid using a personality label, or labeling the person. Labeling the gift is ok if it's not charged with blame or malintent (e.g. "mistaken gift" or "temporary gift") but if you use intention-packed adjectives, it transfers personality judgment to the person and becomes an indirect label, and you are probably assuming intent without giving yourself time to think through it. Still, "de-gifter" is probably better than "fake gift" or "trick-gift" or "phony gift" or "false gift" because they assume no good intention from the start.

If you decide it's best to make them feel a little awkward, (not sure if this is rude) perhaps ask them "What do you call it when someone gives a gift and then later asks for it back?" -- but avoid "what do you call someone who..."


"Political correctness means speech that is correct according to liberal/progressive goodthink" - that's the /pol/ definition from trolling nerds...who don't like being considered just trolls or nerds; hypocrisy is universal.

"Ungifting" is a good choice, though.

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    Where did you get that quote "Political correctness means speech that is correct … goodthink" from? It makes no sense in your answer. If you can please edit and find a reference online that confirms "ungifting" is used it's +1 from me.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Apr 6, 2018 at 20:11
  • It's all referenced from comments here...which are posted above answers... Anyway, I have to get familiar the unique formatting of the site. Feel free to delete, move. downvote as you see fit. Have a nice day! Commented Apr 7, 2018 at 21:09
  • What has that quote got to do with the question? And, no it's not taken from any comments on this page. I checked before commenting myself.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Apr 7, 2018 at 22:53
  • @Mari-LouA: It is indeed taken from the comments under the question. "Political correctness ... goodthink": english.stackexchange.com/questions/255284/…. "Ungifting": english.stackexchange.com/questions/255284/…. Seems like a reply to Jason M, but the answerer didn't have enough rep to post a comment.
    – Justin
    Commented Jun 20, 2022 at 6:30

Try "Swindler". It's really the most sensible given the actuality of the time frame where the term came from as well as the practices used by colonial European powers to get Native American lands. If I were to reduce the idea to once sentence for all of it, the word "swindle" fits the best. swin·dle ˈswindl/ verb verb: swindle; 3rd person present: swindles; past tense: swindled; past participle: swindled; gerund or present participle: swindling

use deception to deprive (someone) of money or possessions.
"a businessman swindled investors out of millions of dollars"
    obtain (money) fraudulently.
    "he was said to have swindled $62.5 million from the pension fund"
    synonyms:   defraud, cheat, trick, dupe, deceive, fool, hoax, hoodwink, bamboozle; More
    informalfleece, con, bilk, sting, hose, diddle, rip off, take for a ride, pull a fast one on, put one over on, take to the cleaners, gull, stiff, euchre, hornswoggle;
    "I was swindled out of money"

noun noun: swindle; plural noun: swindles

a fraudulent scheme or action.
"he is mixed up in a $10 million insurance swindle"
synonyms:   fraud, trick, deception, deceit, cheat, sham, artifice, ruse, dodge, racket, wile; More

It's just a matter of the proper application within the sentence. - Colonial Europe was great at swindling Native Americans out of their land. - Trades of cheap items and alcohol in exchange for land was clearly a swindle on the part of the colonial powers.

  • That's not what Indian giver means at all. Commented Aug 4, 2017 at 5:10

How about "Native American giver", "First Peoples giver", or "Aboriginal giver"?

(While arguably none of those are politically correct, they do have the advantages of at least using the politically correct demonyms, and they're humorous. A lot of things become politically correct when the tone is clearly non-malicious.)

  • That really doesn't help. It's the phrase's implication that Native Americans are untrustworthy that is offensive, not the choice of "Indian". Commented Jun 26, 2015 at 22:57
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    @Parthian: That sounds like saying it can't hurt when Dutch national TV airs blasphemous cartoons depicting Prophet Muhammad. It wasn't done to be funny, it was done to stir the shit (which I've no doubt will in the fullness of time hit the fan! :) Commented Jun 26, 2015 at 23:04
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    @FumbleFingers First, I would like to point out your masterful use of parenthetical closing emoticon, and commend you for it. Second, it depends on your audience. If your audience is known for killing people over cartoons, then (a) that audience needs to take it down about 9,000 notches, and (b) maybe don't run those cartoons as often. If your audience isn't, eh, run 'em. Commented Jun 26, 2015 at 23:10
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    @FumbleFingers Asking for the time of day can get people unnecessarily killed if it's done badly enough. By the wrong person, to the wrong person, at the wrong time, in the wrong place. But, pivotally, it's not the asking that gets people killed. It's the person doing the killing being a psycho that gets people killed. Perpetuating the perspective that peaceful, ordinary people should restrict their use of language simply to appease the violent simply lends credence to the view that it is okay to behave violently in response to something spoken or written. Commented Jun 26, 2015 at 23:23
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    @FumbleFingers Wait, London doesn't already have that? You have failed us, Banksy. You have failed us all. Commented Jun 26, 2015 at 23:40

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