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GUEST COLUMN: It's a "rouguer" nation? The mystery behind Indiana's favorite nickname



A resident of Indiana is known as a Hoosier, but the origin of this word has been in dispute for a long time.

Jeffrey Graf, a reference associate from the Herman B Wells Library at IU said evidence indicates that the term originated from the Upland South region of the United States, which includes Virginia, the Carolinas and Tennessee.

Professor Robert Botne from the IU Department of Linguistics said the term was used in Indiana back when Kentucky became a wealthy state and many poor workers who couldn’t afford to live in Kentucky moved to Indiana.

They were referred to as Hoosiers, which denoted a backwoodsman: a rough, uneducated and uncivilized countryman.

The first documented use of the term in reference to Indiana’s residents dates back to 1833, when John Finley wrote a poem for the “Indianapolis Journal” titled “The Hoosier’s Nest.” The term later came into general usage in the 1830s, notes Graf.

The attempts to explain the meaning of this word gave way to a large number of very creative 
explanations.

Authors Robert and Max Aley explained in their book, “The Story of Indiana and Its People,” Joseph A. Wright, the 10th governor of Indiana, believed the word Hoosier was a distortion of “Who’s here?”.

Graf said it may derive from the Saxon word “hoo” which means cliff, ridge, rise or hill, and therefore is related to the concept of mountain people.

Another theory argued by William Piersen, a history professor at Fisk University, connected its origin to the black Methodist minister Reverend Harry Hosier, who lived from 1750 until 1806.

There is also a theory, developed by Robert and Max Aley, that said it could be a mispronunciation of Hussar, a type of light horsemen established in the 15th century in medieval Hungary and later reused in the early 1800s in France and Latin America.

This theory suggests that the nickname is a form of self-glorification, but it does not speak to the fact that in the early history of Indiana and of other states, Hoosier was a 
pejorative term.

More recently, in 1987, when IU won its fifth NCAA Championship in men’s basketball, people started asking themselves the meaning of the team’s nickname.

Graf said among the theories that emerged at the time, there was one that said it derived from the French last name 
Huissier.

This explanation tried to clarify the fact that the ending “-ier” is very unusual in English.

After reading about the importance of France and its language in Indiana’s early history, and considering that almost a third of English words come from French, we should not be surprised that the word Hoosier might in fact come from the French language.

But which French word?

I will ask you to do a little activity: go to your computer or grab your phone and search for a translation engine or website that will pronounce words out loud. Then type the word “redness” and search for its French translation 
“rougeur.

Listen.

Boom!

As many of you may know, “rouge” in French means red, and you are probably also aware that red is a color associated with indigenous people, pejoratively called “red men” or “red skins.”

This color has also been associated with poor white people by calling them “red necks.”

Furthermore, a similar word in French is “rougeaud” which means ruddy, ruddy-faced person or blowzy.

The word rougeaud can therefore indicate having red cheeks which could be caused by cold weather, physical labor under the sun, excessive alcohol consumption or simply because of skin complexity.

Does Hoosier mean redness or red-faced?

It is a possibility, and although the origin of the word is most likely pejorative, modern-day residents of Indiana revindicated the meaning and transformed it to be able to say with pride: I am a Hoosier.

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