I just used the phrase "to go off the reservation" -- in the context of the workplace, to go in a direction that management might not approve of -- and realized how strange it is. What are the (historical and present-day) connotations of that term?
The Wiktionary entry for "off the reservation" three definitions for the expression:
- (literally) To leave a reservation to which one was restricted.
- (US, politics) To break with one's party or group, usually temporarily.
- (by extension) To engage in disruptive activity outside normal bounds.
The second definition also finds an entry in Safire's Political Dictionary which additionally also adds a note on its origin:
The metaphor is rooted in traders' lingo, referring to Indian reservations in the days when unscrupulous whites would trade "firewater" for goods, and off the reservation was a lonely and dangerous place for an aboriginal American to be.