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.
For an Indian to go off the reservation is to engage in disruptive activity outside normal bounds, so yes, it is offensive. Please do not use it. Reservations were prisons set up for people who were pushed off their own land. They are place of drunken misery and poverty.
protected by tchrist♦ Jun 19 '14 at 18:35
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