The Real Reason That Indian In the Ad Was Crying…

|

…may well have been because he knew that squaw was actually a slang term for cunt, or as The New York Times euphemizes, "a part of [Indian women's] anatomy in particular."

"Squaw" originated in a branch of the Algonquin language, where it meant simply "woman," but it turned into a slur on the tongues of white settlers, who used it to refer derisively to Indian women in general or a part of their anatomy in particular. The settlers liked the word so much that there are now more than 170 springs, gulches, bluffs, valleys, and gaps in [Oregon] called "squaw." All must be renamed under a 2001 law that was enacted after two members of the confederated tribes persuaded the Legislature that the word was offensive to many American Indians and should be erased from maps. But only 13 places have been renamed so far. It is a problem familiar to Indians and government officials in several states where attempts to outlaw "squaw" have been caught in a thicket of bureaucratic, historical and linguistic snares.

Whole tale–and cheap nudge-nudge headline ("Renaming 'Squaw' Sites Proves Touchy in Oregon") here.

Speaking of euphemisms in newspapers, here's a New York Observer piece that asks whatever happened "%#$*!!"? and looks at recent bowdlerizing of Berke Breathed comic strips, in which "50 blows" was replaced as a punchline with "50 spews." Whole "%#$*!!"? thing here (scroll down).

Update: In the comments below, Reason Contributing Editor Charles Oliver (who blogs at the most excellent Shouting Across the Pacific) points out that there's no proof that squaw means what The New York Times says it means. Here's a 2000 Straight Dope col on the topic, which notes, "I'm not saying it's not an insult. It's just not an obscene insult."

NEXT: New Yawk as Porkopolis—and Typical, All-Too-Typical

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Except for the fact that’s there’s no proof the word was ever actually used as a synonym for cunt.

  2. “Squaw” originated in a branch of the Algonquin language, where it meant simply “woman,” but it turned into a slur on the tongues of white settlers

    That settles it for me! Keep all the “squaw” names as a means of reclaiming the word from the evil whites who turned a perfectly good Algonguin word into a slur. A solution that’s P.C., maintains tradition, and saves a fortune because nobody has to redo signs, stationery and maps. It’s win-win-win!

  3. I’ve never heard before that squaw was commonly used as an obscenity for a particular body part. If it were, would there really be so many mapmakers in past centuries willing to print up maps using the ‘vulgarity’?

    I can accept that whites who referred to American Indians in a perjorative fashion would have given such words a perjorative sense, but I’m less willing to accept that it was an obsenity that made it’s way onto maps of the time.

  4. Wow. I’m ashamed of my state.

    Even if it might sometimes once meant cunt(first I’d heard of it), that makes “squaw” no more a dirty name than “Johnson,” and we’ve got 16 places named Johnson here in Oregon.

    But the irony is that we still have a Whorehouse Meadow. The federal maps changed it to Naughty Girl Meadow in 1971 but Oregonians got it changed back to Whorehouse. A whorehouse without cunts? Doesn’t seem right.

  5. The headline should be “Squaw” Disparaged by Assholes

    Okay it’s not up to Onassis checking out Buster Keaton’s home “Aristotle Contemplating the Home of Buster” but it has a nice balance of synecdoche, and shows the real conflict of interest involved.

  6. I still don’t get what the silly squaw was crying about. Perhaps if Johnson had been there it would have been ok

  7. The New York Times screwed up again? Color me shocked.

  8. You mean I’ve been skiing at Cunt Valley?

  9. We went through a similar ordeal here in Minnesota a few years back. Politically, the battle lines were drawn thus:
    The Indians didn’t care.
    The locals didn’t want to change the names of their landmarks and towns.
    The politically correct do-gooders in blue-Minneapolis wanted their way.
    By force of numbers, the do-gooders won.

    Overlooked in the whole fracas was the question “Why would the people settling here want to name their town something offensive?” The answer often was the opposite, e.g. the settlers didn’t know the name of the Indian women who had shown them the lake, or whatever.

    Also, IIRC, in an attempt to avoid the issue, one town suggested renaming themselves Cunt Lake!

    Let “Whatever” be the last word.

  10. How is this different from Maine’s decision, a couple years ago, to rename “Nigger Hill Lake?”

    Or a town in Nantucket’s decision to change its name back to Acquinnah from “Gay Head?”

    The connotations of words change. Things that seemed perfectly appropriate at one time seem inappropriate at another. And who the hell is Nick Gillespie to tell American Indians what is, and what isn’t, offensive to them?

  11. Will you squaws find something more important to complain about?

  12. And who the hell is Nick Gillespie to tell American Indians what is, and what isn’t, offensive to them?

    joe, YOU offend me. Stop posting forthwith. Got a problem with that? Well, who the hell is [joe] to tell [me] what is, and what isn’t, offensive to [me]?

    See why that doesn’t work?

  13. Where did Nick claim to be telling American Indians what is and isn’t offensive to them?

    And how the hell does joe know what is and isn’t offensive to every single American Indian? Do they all share a hive mind, or are individuals capable of autonomous thought on this, or . . . ?

    (It’s awfully convenient that, when talking about things that might give offense, it’s OK for so-called “progressives” to refer to people that might share nothing more than a distant cultural or ethnic commonality as “them.” It puts the power of group outrage behind something that might not be all that outrageous.)

  14. That explains why you can get Squaw bread but not Squaw cheese.

  15. Those of you who’ve read Albion’s Seed know that the people who settled what was then the American backcountry often gave places “earthy” names. But in the late 19th century all of those Fucking Creeks and Cunt Hollows got wiped off the maps.

    I contend that was a shame, and I’d hate to see all the Squaw valleys, ponds and creeks get renamed even if the word meant what a handful of easily aggrieved Indian activists say that it did. (Which it doesn’t.)

  16. I think S%#$*!! Creek should be S%#$*!! Creek and I don’t care who disagrees.

  17. Aside from that, word meaning is fluid over time. Even if “Squaw” meant something awful 150 years ago it certainly doesn’t mean that in the 21st Century.

    There is little on this earth that makes me more pissed than starry eyed do-gooders trying to make amends for something that no living person suffered with and no living person inflicted upon anybody else. And for the most part, like this deal, it’s bullshit anyway.

    I took the missus and the kids to see
    Wupatki
    last summer and learned that the modern day Indians (who are in no way connected to the people who built these dwellings) are agitating to have the Park Service allow these magnificent ruins to decay into compost simply because they assert that this is the proper Indian way. All things must pass away, including these century old settlements, in order for there to be in harmony in the natural world.

    They would also like to ban anyone from walking under Rainbow Bridge in Glen Canyon because a few Mormons noted in their diaries that the Navajo wouldn’t walk under the
    bridge
    . That was extrapolated into some kind of religious heritage that has been trampled to death by us white boys. As a tribute to my Dutch heritage I wore my wooden shoes to walk under the bridge (brought along my hard head and planted some tulips too).

  18. My favorite Minnesota do-gooders example is that
    unbeknownst to most locals, Nigger Lake became
    Niger Lake. Of course, until the Joe Wilson affair,
    I didn’t know it was supposed to be pronounced
    Nee-zhair Lake. Or maybe, like Lac Qui Parle, it should now be Lac du Niger.

  19. Oops,

    Wupatki is CENTURIES OLD not a century old. Best estimates is 800 years to 1000 years old.

    Sorry about the paragraph formatting. It looked okay in the preview.

  20. As long as we’re ragging on the aboriginals (though I still think they were ripped off and generally treated abominably), when they complain that we shouldn’t have walked on the moon, which many tribes consider to be “holy,” or fight to prevent the study of the Kenniwick Man because it might conflict with their religious beliefs that they were always on the North American continent, they really do deserve to be ignored as much as any other kind of fundamentalists.

  21. Work on that reading comprehension, Phil. “X is not an authority on Y” is not the same as “All Ys think alike.” You’ve obviously been waiting a long time to accuse someone of thinking all Indians think alike, but that’s no excuse to make a completely irrelevant criticism of a point that has nothing to do with that subject.

    Matt, I don’t give a rat’s ass what’s offensive to you – especially since whether or not you were offended by something has zilch to do with the topic under discussion.

    Also, I didn’t say Gillespie shouldn’t pontificate on this subject because what he writes is offense. I said that Gillespie is not an authority on the subject.

    Thin stuff, fellas. Do either of you care to venture an opinion on my point?

  22. Did anyone else catch the Zits strip where Pierce put a condom on a pencil?
    Was everyone asleep that day?

  23. Let’s rename them all “Joe is a Penis Wanker Creek (Bluff, Gap, etc.)”

  24. Mike, wasn’t that a Bob Seger song?

  25. Maybe in days to come “New York Times” will mean something like “bunch of lying assholes.”

  26. Work on that reading comprehension, Phil. “X is not an authority on Y” is not the same as “All Ys think alike.”

    Actually, when the topic at hand is “What is offensive to American Indians,” being an authority on said topic just about presupposes that “All American Indians think alike,” or at least a nontrivial number of them. And/or It also presupposes that the thing allegedly giving offense is so egregious as to fall within the category of things likely to offend all or most Y no matter how they think, a matter which you are taking as given but which has hardly been established.

    You’ve obviously been waiting a long time to accuse someone of thinking all Indians think alike,

    Have I? Really? Gee, Kreskin, there are lots of other things I’d like to know about myself, as long as you’re reading minds. That’s some talent — what are you doing as a planner when you could be winning James Randi’s million dollars?

    but that’s no excuse to make a completely irrelevant criticism of a point that has nothing to do with that subject.

    Hey, speaking of which, can you again — since you wrote it in invisible type the first time — show me where Nick told Indians what should and shouldn’t be offensive to them? It should be pretty simple to quote me the exact line.

    Also, I didn’t say Gillespie shouldn’t pontificate on this subject because what he writes is offense. I said that Gillespie is not an authority on the subject.

    Kreskin Strikes Again! How do you know what Nick does and doesn’t know about Indians?

  27. That explains why the NFL team “The Washington REDSKINS” would not call their cheerleaders “Squaws”. They did not want to offend anybody.

  28. Oregon has a number of great names…look up the history of the State Park Rooster Rock for its original non-PC name by settler women.

  29. Chris,
    Why don’t you just tell us what the non pC name was, instead of making us work?

  30. They can rename things on a map, but that doesn’t mean people will use the new name. Here in Phoenix they renamed the major mountain landmark from Squaw Peak to the name of a Navajo who was killed in Iraq. And I don’t remember what that name is, much less how to spell it. Everyone still calls it Squaw Peak.

  31. Here, here. Instead of the FDR I love to take my friends down the “East River Drive”, which is wonderfully clear thanks to the giant WPA carving on one of the tunnels; less clear is the location of “Welfare Island” (whose original name is a fitting tribute to “Roosevelt Island”). Oh, the irony.

  32. This is what strikes me as goofy about this:

    To an American Indian speaker of Algonquin, “squaw” simply meant “woman.”

    But then white settlers began using it as a slur.

    For American Indians to, in essence, culturally capitulate and say, “OK, ‘squaw’ means what white settlers used it to mean” strikes me as not just extremely assimilationist, but downright Euro-centric. (Here, “Euro-” as in “white.”)

    It’s as if people living in the Western USA were to decide the word “cowboy” is an offensive word because some people in certain other countries use it as a term of derision.

  33. The greatest drollery of all: this brouhaha is taking place in the Beaver State.

  34. That Squaw Peak in Phoenix was originally called Squaw Tit (if you see it, you can’t help but see the aerola). But of course, that was too much for some folks. So it was changed.

    As an example of why things shouldn’t change, Squaw Peak is a pretty bad one.

    As for my two cents: let the locals decide. And if they lose money through boycotts and protests, let them reconsider. Screw tradition: let some democracy in.

  35. Of course – locals should decide. The state should have nothing whatsoever to do with it. If locals aren’t offended by Drain and Boring for town names, then busybodies elsewhere in the state shouldn’t trump the sensibilities of the locals.

    It’s the kind of democracy that counts: the democracy of the locals over the democracy of busybodies.

    And you know, people who get upset by certain uses of words should have the courage to take on the word and insist on the meaning they give to it. For the most part, I like the fact that homosexuals have taken back “queer.” Their very impolitic act of appropriation has taken the wind out of the sales of quite a few homophobes. Similarly, I have feminist friends who’ve taken back the word “crone,” which was most certainly a pejorative for a long time.

    So why not “squaw”? And why not squawk about the squaws who remain upset?

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.