I know that "Eskimo" is an offensive term in Canada; they use the term "Inuit".

But I see the term "Eskimo" popping up regularly in news articles that I read; I hardly see the term "Inuit" being used. Why? Ignorance? Apathy?

Is the term "Eskimo" offensive only in Canada, or in the rest of the world too?


6 Answers 6


There are at least two different types of Eskimo: Inuit and Yupik. In Canada and Greenland, the only type of Eskimo is the Inuit. However in the United States, both types are present and in Russia, only the Yupik are present. So, Eskimo couldn't really mean anything other than Inuit in Canada whereas in Alaska it could very well be referring to either. In Russia, it could only mean the Yupik.

The point is that Eskimo is a more general word than Inuit. All Inuit are Eskimos but not all Eskimos are Inuit. The two words aren't synonyms.

According to Wikipedia, the term is offensive in Canada and Greenland and not elsewhere.


As a Brit with relatively little knowledge of English as it's spoken on the other side of the pond, I would use Eskimo.

  1. It has no negative connotations in Europe
  2. I've heard the term 'Inuit' and vaguely associate it with Eskimo, but I'd never use it actively.

To answer your question, at least from the British perspective, yes it seems that it's only derogatory in Canada; and this is due neither to ignorance nor apathy, to us it's the correct word.

  • 6
    As another example of how similar terms can be offensive in some places, but neutral in others: I believe the term "oriental", as applied to a person or their origin, may be considered offensive in North America (with the preferred term being "Asian"); whereas in the UK it is merely a geographical term with no negative connotation (referring specifically to the Far East - "Asia" is a big place!). A British friend of mine was somewhat perplexed, after describing himself as being of "oriental origin", to be told "don't do yourself down like that" - as far as he was concerned, he wasn't...
    – psmears
    Commented Mar 8, 2011 at 11:55
  • 1
    Hmmm, I've not heard of "oriental" as being offensive here in North America. At least not in my region. Knowing several Asian/Oriental people who have no problem with either term. Commented Mar 8, 2011 at 13:51

Having been born and raised in various parts of Alaska I can say, yes, the word is considered offensive there.

Its usage in the media is usually accurate, as most northern indigenous peoples can safely be referred to as 'Eskimos', but the term is a wide generalization - and most wide generalizations are offensive to those they encompass.

If you find yourself about to use the term in conversation, try a more specific replacement. In Alaska, the most congenial would be 'Alaska Native'.

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    That said... I wouldn't bother. If some people decide that a proper word is an insult instead... it's their problem, not mine.
    – o0'.
    Commented Jan 17, 2011 at 16:42
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    @Lo'oris: that's an unsympathetic point of view I don't share. I am canadian, if I were continually referred to as "american" I would ask people to stop. If I was and then told "well, you're from North America, aren't you? Why shouldn't I call you american?" I would still take offence.
    – ghoppe
    Commented Jan 18, 2011 at 15:37
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    @ghoppe: that's because many people nowadays identify "America" with "USA". On the other hand, as many people here already pointed out, the word Eskimo currently identifies those two peoples: the Yupik and the Inuit. That's like saying you are "north-american": it may mean you are from Canada or you are from US, and you are not supposed to take offence from that, since that's just the plain truth. If suddenly, say, Norwegians started taking offence if you called them "Europeans" I would just laugh and call them that way at every occasion.
    – o0'.
    Commented Jan 18, 2011 at 15:47
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    @Lo'oris: Read the first sentence of the wikipedia article you linked. The word does not refer to just raiding parties. Still, what we think the word eskimo means is irrelevant. What is relevant is what it means to the Inuit people. They feel there is stigma attached to the word and the word has fallen out of use here in Canada. Similarly, when you hear the word indian used here it's usually in a pejorative way (unless it refers to real east-indian language or culture.) Language evolves.
    – ghoppe
    Commented Jan 18, 2011 at 17:57
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    I don't get why "Alaska Native" is less offensive than "Eskimo" when the former is a broader generalization than the latter. Alaska Native would include Aleuts as well, would it not? Commented Jan 20, 2011 at 8:42

But I see the term "Eskimo" popping up regularly in news articles that I read; I hardly see the term "Inuit" being used. Why? Ignorance? Apathy?

I would chalk it up to more ignorance than apathy, and also because there is no other generic shorthand word to refer to all the native peoples of northern Canada, Russia, Greenland, and Alaska.

Is the term "Eskimo" offensive only in Canada, or in the rest of the world too?

The Inuit of Canada and Greenland find the word to be pejorative, so the Government of Canada and the media in Canada have understandably taken this into account and refer to them by their own name for themselves.

Many people in Canada don't realize the Inuit consider it a slur, and even less know this in the rest of the world, so you'll continue to see the word in print.


There is a nice explanation by the Alaska Native Language Center at the University of Alaska Fairbanks:

Although the name "Eskimo" is commonly used in Alaska to refer to all Inuit and Yupik people of the world, this name is considered derogatory in many other places because it was given by non-Inuit people and was said to mean "eater of raw meat."

Linguists now believe that "Eskimo" is derived from an Ojibwa word meaning "to net snowshoes." However, the people of Canada and Greenland prefer other names. "Inuit," meaning "people," is used in most of Canada, and the language is called "Inuktitut" in eastern Canada although other local designations are used also. The Inuit people of Greenland refer to themselves as "Greenlanders" or "Kalaallit" in their language, which they call "Greenlandic" or "Kalaallisut."

Most Alaskans continue to accept the name "Eskimo," particularly because "Inuit" refers only to the Inupiat of northern Alaska, the Inuit of Canada, and the Kalaallit of Greenland, and it is not a word in the Yupik languages of Alaska and Siberia.


I strongly suspect that the claim that "Eskimo" means "eater of raw meat" is an urban legend, just like the "Eskimo words for snow" claim. The term may be offensive if it's an overly broad or an exclusionary term, but that's a different kettle of fish.

As a random factoid, Esky is a genericized trademark for portable cooler in Australia. Another brand of portable cooler/esky is Igloo.

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    Whether the origin of the word eskimo was truly offensive or not is irrelevant. To some Inuit, the term isn't offensive because it's overly broad or exclusive, but because it was used as a racial slur, in the same way the origins of "the N-word" weren't offensive (spanish for black) but its usage over the years became a slur.
    – ghoppe
    Commented Jan 17, 2011 at 18:29
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    @ghoppe: Are you sure that it's Inuit complaining about the term, rather than non-Inuits?
    – Golden Cuy
    Commented Jan 17, 2011 at 21:59
  • Reasonably so. Although I am Canadian, I haven't had the chance to ask an Inuit personally… the same process is happening with the word indian. Most people, native and non-native, now consider the word pejorative and prefer more neutral terms like "native-american" yet the word still lives on in organizational and geographic names. qv. naacp.org
    – ghoppe
    Commented Jan 17, 2011 at 22:28
  • @ghoppe -- I consider it quite understandable that non-European early Americans of various sorts prefer to be called Native Americans or to be referred to by more accurate tribal names (Tejas, Cherokee, Sioux, etc.) instead of "indian". Even if cultural and geographic diversity is ignored, they never were "Indian" -- this was a geography mistake.
    – jbelacqua
    Commented Mar 24, 2011 at 4:49
  • the "eater of raw meat" etymology is dubious. Eskimo probably means "lacer of snowshoes" or perhaps "speaker of a different language". In either event, or even if it does mean "eater of raw meat", the name is of Algonquin origin and not Eskimo-Aleutian, which is sufficient to find it offensive.
    – charlotte
    Commented Feb 21, 2015 at 18:27

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