My daughter presented us with Hoosier Mum & Hoosier Dad T-shirts as a parting gift. Why are the Indies called by the unusual word Hoosiers? There does not seem to be any relationship with the two words at all, however everyone seems to be very proud to use the word!! So I popped that question but my daughter was not sure of it & I asked couple of her friends but no one seems to know the answer. Out of curiosity I made an effort to learn… but oddly there was no concrete answer to that question!! However was surprised to find an amusing body of folklore attached to the theories about the origin of the nickname evident since as far back as 1833. It is one of the oldest of state nicknames & has had a wider acceptance than most (example Buckeyes of Ohio, the Suckers of Illinois & the Tarheels of North Carolina, etc.)
From where did the term originate? Perhaps brought by immigrants all the way from Cumberland, England as a reminder of the land they left behind. According to Dr. Jacob Piatt Dunn, Jr., Indiana historian & longtime secretary of the HIS: the word “hoosier” was frequently used in many parts of the South in the 19th century for woodsmen or rough hill people. He traced the word back to “hoozer,” in the Cumberland dialect of England. This derives from the Anglo-Saxon word “hoo” meaning high or hill. In the Cumberland dialect, the world “hoozer” meant anything unusually large, presumably like a hill. It is not hard to see how this word was attached to a hill dweller or highlander.
The etymologies suggest that there are three factors which seem to fit in commonly with most of the stories: the word Hoosier was first applied to a rough, boisterous, uncouth, illiterate class of people, & that the word originally implied this character. The word come from the South, or was first applied by Southern people (ironically the word long been used in the south as a derogatory term for a rough countryman). And the word was coined for the purpose of designating Indiana people & was not in existence before it was applied to them.
Here’s a collection of some other interesting stories:
- When a visitor hailed a pioneer cabin in Indiana or knocked upon its door, the settler would respond, Who’s yere?/who’s ‘ere? And from this frequent response, Indiana became the “Who’s yere” or Hoosier state.
- Hussars or Husher, a brawny man, capable of stilling opponents; Indiana river men were so spectacularly successful in trouncing or “hushing” their adversaries in the brawling that was then common that they became known as “hushers,” & eventually Hoosiers.
- An unusual explanation offered by “The Hoosier Poet,” James Whitcomb Riley: Hoosier originated in the pugnacious habits of our early settlers. They were enthusiastic & vicious fighters, who gouged, scratched & bit off noses & ears. This was so common an occurrence that a settler coming into a tavern the morning after a fight & seeing an ear on the floor would touch it with his toe & casually ask, “Whose ear?”
- Hoosa, an Indian word for corn; Indiana flat-boatmen taking corn or maize to New Orleans came to be known as “hoosa men” or Hoosiers.
- Samuel Hoosier, the Louisville canal contractor employed on the Louisville & Portland Canal who preferred to hire laborers from Indiana. They were called “Hoosier’s men” & eventually all Indianans were called Hoosiers.
- Hussar, from the fiery European mounted troops.
- Huzzah! The exclamation of victory or celebration.
- Hoose, an English term for a disease of cattle which gives the animals a wild sort of look.
- Hoose, roundworm.
- Houssière, French for bushy places or holly plantation.
- Huzur, a Hindustani form of address to persons of rank or superiority (coooool… no wonder the name spells Indiana – India + ana (meaning India come!!) as if inviting for dinner. Interestingly enough, about 30 or so miles from Bloomington, there is a town called Hindustan!
- There was also a news paper story of a recruiting officer, who was engaged during the last war, in enlisting a company of Hussars (types of light cavalry), whom by mistake he denominated Hooshiers.
- Sarah Harvey, a Quaker from Richmond, supposed to have explained in an 1835 letter to her relatives, “old settlers in Indiana are called ‘Hooshers’ & the cabins they first live in ‘Hoosher nests’ . . .”
Whatever or whoever & whyever, it came into existence, as far as me coming from everyone’s mouth it sounds uniquely cheerful than rugged!! On the contrary to Cumberland meaning, the people of Indiana are amazingly polite & civilized. And certainly looks like the Hoosiers bear their nickname proudly. One school of thought even suggests: Whatever may have been the original acceptation of Hooshier we know, that the people to whom it is now applied are amongst the bravest, most intelligent, most enterprising, most magnanimous, & most democratic of the Great West. I second that… .Goooooo Hoosiers!