Wednesday

Review: The word 'Eskimo'

Google teaches us that the word Eskimo is a term for the Inuit invented by the Southern Algonquin, God knows who they are, meaning “the eaters of raw flesh in the north”. People are forever making these wild, implausible claims for words in foreign languages, as you will realise if you have ever listened to a debate being translated into different languages. Once, I was listening to a Hungarian go on and on for what felt like hours, as they tend to, and when he stopped, our translator said, “He disagrees.” We were suspicious: there are long words in Hungarian, but not that long.

A list of racially sensitive terms in the Mayfield Handbook of Technical and Science Writing (with Google I’m like Moses with the commandments, I don’t judge, I don’t ask, I just chip away at the tablets because I don’t have a pen handy) notes that “in Canada the official term for local native people is Inuit rather than Eskimo. Many Alaskan natives also prefer this term.” Canadians are very pleasant people, very polite, although I find the books of Margaret Atwood disappointing. The Inuit for ‘Inuit’ translates as ‘real people’, apparently. In this respect, the Inuit are showing an upsetting lack of cultural sensitivity.

There is a scene in the film Heathers where Christian Slater underlines the word 'Esquimaux' in a girl’s copy of Moby Dick before making it look as if she’s topped herself. I liked that scene, as an impressionable child:

“Heather Duke underlined a lot of things in this copy of Moby Dick, but I believe the word ‘Eskimo’, underlined all by itself, is the key to understanding Heathers pain. On the surface, Heather Duke was the vivacious young lady we all knew her to be, but her soul was in Antarctica! …We'll all miss Sherwood’s little Eskimo. Let’s just hope she's rubbing noses with Jesus!”

Here is Herman Melville on the subject: “Only the most unprejudiced of men like Stubb, nowadays partake of cooked whales; but the Esquimaux are not so fastidious.” Maybe Herman Melville and the Southern Algonquin had some underhand and secret pact to muddy the good name of the Inuit.

The Eskimo language neither exists nor has an unusual number of words for snow. Here is
Geoffrey Pullum, author of an essay called The Great Eskimo Vocabulary Hoax, on the issue:

“There seem to be only a handful of roots that really are snow roots in the languages of the Yup'iks and Inuits, maybe four or five, not very different from the number found in English (snow, sleet, slush, blizzard).”

The word Eskimo: Statcounter tells me that someone arrived here recently by googling “naked Eskimo girls”. It breaks my heart to disappoint you, sir or madam. 9 out of 10.

12 Comments:

At 3:29 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am a member of the Bear Clan of the Algonquin First Nations, within the Six Nations Confederacy at Pikwakanagan. We spell it 'Algonquin', we tend to eschew the pale-face spelling conventions.
The phrase "the eaters of raw flesh in the no-tree land" was a name given to our brothers in the 'no-tree land'. The white man called it 'the north', we had no conception of the points of a compass.
Suffice it to say, eskimo was a name based on a statement of fact. We were not trying to "muddy the good name of the Inuit. We have no concept of muddying the good name of anything in our original culture.
I am Algonquin of the South, not Inuit of the North.
I must say, Ms./Mr. Eskimo, You do not speak with forked tongue.

Peace and Spirit be with you,

Joseph Whiteduck

 
At 3:34 pm, Blogger HA HA HA said...

kilar fact! lotsa vitemans in raw blubar! thats why the iniut didn get scurvy much whiale back in the 19th c. u culd find the fastidous cuacasoids in teh arctic by folowin the trail of teth an hair. but a few of em did have sence enouhg to imetate the locals.

of cuoarse mabe thats a myth to but the innuits musta been geting vitamens form somewhare right?

 
At 3:38 pm, Blogger Eskimo said...

have corrected that hideous spelling mistake.

*hangs head briefly in shame*

 
At 4:10 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

HA HA HA,
You are right, In fact my ancestors kept all the white folk alive for many years at the start of the Conquest in the 16th century.
In hindsight, I suspect it was rather imprudent of us.

Eskimo,
It is/was not a spelling mistake.
Some of the Ivory-Tower white folk have chosen to transliterate our name from our language to English as you had written it.

Whale blubber is the Inuit childs' candy! That is a Killer fact!

Joe Whiteduck,

Just a Red man, living in the White man's world, singing the Black man's blues

 
At 8:16 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

hello, eskimo!

the indigenous people of scandinavia, the sami (formerly known as "lapps," but they didnt like that name either, particularly as it can also be used as verb in swedish, meaning "to be a lazy git" (eg. "stop lapping around and do some work"). so they demanded their own word be used instead, which is why they are "sami" not "lapps." they also did not opt for "reclaiming" lapp, like some female university students who have seen the vagina monologues one too many times have done with "cunt."

anyway, my point was (and i did have one), is that the sami DO have about 100 words for snow related phenomena, and a similar number for reindeer...erm, related phenomena.

from your dark friend in copenhagen

 
At 10:26 am, Anonymous eskimo said...

"snow-related" words? would they include such words as "slippery pavement" and "delayed train"?

i am going to reclaim the word lapp as a word for cunt. in your FACE, eve ensler.

 
At 11:51 am, Blogger petescully said...

If you deal with snow for most of the year you would undoubtedly come up with lots of words for the stuff. Here in London we come up with thousands of terms for 'rain'. "Bloody Rain", "Bastard Rain", "Fucking Rain", "Shitting Rain", all spring to mind.
(Not today though, it's lovely out)
Some people think there's no word for sex in Irish, just as they have no word for 'yes' and 'no'.

 
At 1:47 pm, Blogger brunio said...

I always wondered if your 'nom de blog' was a Heathers reference and now I know. I must've watched that film about 40 times during my formative years. I'm not gay or owt but the ferocity of Christian Slater's 'I LOVE IT!' upon discovering the word 'Eskimo' in Moby Dick always makes me feel a bit funny.
I recently vowed that, as a kind of tribute to Heathers, if I ever decided to end it all, my body'll be discovered next to a meaningfully marked up copy of Geri Halliwell's second autobiography.
That was all a bit off topic, but I'm glad I got it off my chest.

 
At 7:00 am, Blogger HA HA HA said...

spekin as aparson of iresh dasent i can confrim tath thares no wrod for sex an no ned for one. god only knows how we reproaduce. but i se form teh link that its not true which is paradicteble: iresh has no wrod for 'bullshit' becuase theirs no word for not bullshti.

infcat that post is wellwroth reding. heck tehat whoale bolg is. atlest from a bref galance it looks rely cool. notwithstaigndign zerlesons fnadom form penn garudates i wuldna thunk it. see fror exaple:

Employment of a qualified ASS consultant experienced in ASS projects similar to that proposed, will often save time and money in the long run and reduce exposure to future litigation. herein.

but anyway ive ben drignmkign an have no recalection of why i strated writaign tihs so fuck off.

 
At 4:57 pm, Blogger soulfire said...

Wow, First Nation education, Heather's references all over the place and drunkin Irish commentary...I think I'm in heaven!

Well done Joe.

I would have liked to read a simple yet profound "I am sorry" from eskimo. I've observed that we tend to skirt around this refrain listing all sorts of other catch phrases without actually saying/writing the words "I am sorry". Words are powerful.

 
At 4:52 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nobody ever likes the names others (of other nationality) give them.
We should always ask groups of people what they would like to be called.
My guess would be that everyone would like to be called, "real people."

Who were the two guys at that Canadian university who locked themselves in a radio station and pretended to be Inuits for several hours until they broke the door down. Now that was some funny stuff.

Chief Kermit Stumblingbear

 
At 6:46 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Weak.

 

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