Why do some Americans still call the indigenous people of the Americas "Indians" when they now know that they're not from India?

closed as primarily opinion-based by sumelic, Mazura, Drew, BiscuitBoy, choster Feb 15 '16 at 5:22

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    Do you mean to include Native Americans/Amerindians/Indians in your overall category of "Americans"? It's hard for me to tell. Some of them do use the term "Indian" to refer to themselves; see the answers to the following question: Short, Politically Correct word for Native Americans – sumelic Feb 14 '16 at 22:14
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    I'm confused why this question has two answers by reputable members, but both of them have negative votes? – Ramrod Feb 14 '16 at 22:21
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    Because Language is as it is, and not as some people think it ought to be. For some people, this has changed, but not for everybody. – Colin Fine Feb 14 '16 at 22:23
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    @ColinFine: That's a very nice and cryptic comment that could be interpreted in two ways. – Cerberus Feb 14 '16 at 22:58
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    Because many people do not subscribe to the doctrines of politically correct speech. – jamesqf Feb 15 '16 at 4:14

Europeans also call them Indians. Once a name has entered common parlance, even if it later turns out to be illogical, it rarely falls out of use just for that reason. Just like the word turkey for the American bird: it is called that because people once confused it with a different bird that was imported from Turkey. It's just how language works...think of it as a funny quirk.

Consider also the words Indonesia and Indo-China, which clearly do not refer to India (although admittedly to places somewhat less far away from it). In Dutch, it is even weirder. There are three words that should all mean "from India": Indiaas, Indiaans, Indisch. But they mean "from India, native American, Indonesian", respectively. Oh, and there's also Indonesisch... The respective nouns (for people from those places) are Indiaer (uncommon), Indiaan, Indiër, and Indonesiër.


I quite like George Carlin's rant on this:

Now, the Indians. I call them Indians because that's what they are. They're Indians. There's nothing wrong with the word Indian. First of all, it's important to know that the word Indian does not derive from Columbus mistakenly believing he had reached "India". India was not even called by that name in 1492; it was known as Hindustan. More likely, the word Indian comes from Columbus's description of the people he found here. He was an Italian, and did not speak or write very good Spanish, so in his written accounts he called the Indians "Una gente in Dios". A people in God. In God. In Dios. Indians. It's a perfectly noble and respectable word.

So let's look at this pussified, trendy bullshit phrase, Native Americans. First of all, they're not natives. They came over the Bering land bridge from Asia, so they're not natives. There are no natives anywhere in the world. Everyone is from somewhere else. All people are refugees, immigrants, or aliens. If there were natives anywhere, they would be people who still live in the Great Rift Valley in Africa where the human species arose. Everyone else is just visiting. So much for the "native" part of Native American.

As far as calling them "Americans" is concerned, do I even have to point out what an insult this is? Jesus Holy Shit Christ! We steal their hemisphere, kill twenty or so million of them, destroy five hundred separate cultures, herd the survivors onto the worst land we can find, and now we want to name them after ourselves? Its appalling. Haven't we done enough damage? Do we have to further degrade them by tagging them with the repulsive name of their conquerers?

That's about half of his rant; read his book to see the rest of it. The point is that "Native American" is a really unseemly label if you stop to think about it.

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    Deriving "Indian" from "In Dios" really really really sounds like a backronym (or backmanteau, or whatever). George Carlin was a comedian, not an etymologist or historian. And if you look at an actual dictionary, you'll see that the experts disagree with him. (In any case, the relevant "India" is not the subcontinent of Hindustan, but the islands of the East Indies.) – sumelic Feb 15 '16 at 3:39

Actually the expression Native Americans is becoming more common than American Indians in recent decades:

Ngram: 'Native Americans' vs. 'American Indians':

Native American :

  • a member of any of the first groups of people living in North America or South America; especially : a member of one of these groups from the U.S. (See American Indian) .
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    It's Ngram, spelt with an "m", and American Indian must always be capitalized. – Mari-Lou A Feb 14 '16 at 23:11
  • The only reason Native Americans is becoming more common is becuase some (and a growing number of) people find the term Indian for Native Americans offensive. – malicedShade Feb 15 '16 at 4:01
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    @superpenti: As a matter of fact, a good many Indians find the term "Native American" offensive. – jamesqf Feb 15 '16 at 4:09

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