Some of my non-U.S., and even some American readers, might be wondering what a Hoosier is and why I put such a funny word in my blog name. A Hoosier is most commonly used today to describe a person from Indiana, USA.
In the 4th grade, we were required to take a course on Indiana history. My teacher shared with us some of the common myths behind the word “Hoosier.” My favorite was that, when Indiana was a newly settled territory filled with rough-and-tumble types, men would get into fights at saloons or bars. Some of those fights inevitably ended in bloodshed, with men even losing their ears. In the morning, villagers would walk out into the street, find the lost appendages, and cry out “Whose ear?”…which eventually combined to create the word “Hoosier.”
Funny stories aside, the truth is that no one knows for certain how the term Hoosier came to be. The Indiana Historical Bureau has a nice article explaining some possibilities (including a version of my 4th grade teacher’s account):
- “When a visitor hailed a pioneer cabin in Indiana or knocked upon its door, the settler would respond, “Who’s yere?” And from this frequent response Indiana became the “Who’s yere” or Hoosier state. No one ever explained why this was more typical of Indiana than of Illinois or Ohio.
- That Indiana rivermen were so spectacularly successful in trouncing or “hushing” their adversaries in the brawling that was then common that they became known as “hushers,” and eventually Hoosiers.
- There was once a contractor named Hoosier employed on the Louisville and Portland Canal who preferred to hire laborers from Indiana. They were called “Hoosier’s men” and eventually all Indianans were called Hoosiers.
- A theory attributed to Gov. Joseph Wright derived Hoosier from an Indian word for corn, “hoosa.” Indiana flatboatmen taking corn or maize to New Orleans came to be known as “hoosa men” or Hoosiers. Unfortunately for this theory, a search of Indian vocabularies by a careful student of linguistics failed to reveal any such word for corn.
- Quite as plausible as these was the facetious explanation offered by “The Hoosier Poet,” James Whitcomb Riley. He claimed that Hoosier originated in the pugnacious habits of our early settlers. They were enthusiastic and vicious fighters who gouged, scratched and bit off noses and ears. This was so common an occurrence that a settler coming into a tavern the morning after a fight and seeing an ear on the floor would touch it with his toe and casually ask, “Whose ear?””
The fact that no one knows exactly where the term Hoosier came from points, in a larger sense, to the importance of family history and genealogical research. If someone in the 1830’s had written down or collected stories of where the name originated, we wouldn’t be left wondering today.
If I ask myself what “Hoosier” means to me, it is a person born and raised in Indiana who takes pride in their state and its rich traditions. The song “Back Home Again in Indiana,” while not the official state song, was first published in 1917 and is a nostalgic reminder of Hoosier pride. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Back_Home_Again_in_Indiana
Of course, Jim Nabors’ yearly rendition of this song at the Indianapolis 500 is a much-loved tradition by Hoosiers and race fans alike.
So, the short answer to my original question is “who knows?” Perhaps if better records had been kept, we proud Hoosiers would know more about what exactly it is we call ourselves.
Does your hometown, state, or country, have a term that everyone uses but no one is sure what it means?