Apparently the skeptical cardiologist offended many Hoosiers when he called them Indianans recently. Truth be told, I knew that the good folks from Indiana were proud to call themselves Hoosiers but here in St. Louis “hoosier” is a derogatory term that has nothing to do with Indiana.
Consequently, I went with the unofficial term Indianan as the state denonym.
Denonyms denote the inhabitants of a city, state, region or nation. Wikipedia lists an “official” (as designated by the Government Publishing Office) and unofficial demonyms for all US states and territories here.
For Indiana, apparently, the GPO adopted Hoosiers in 2016 (presumably a switch from Indianan.)
The Atlas Obscura has a great article on the origins of the word Hoosier entitled The Unsolvable Mystery of the Word Hoosier
The word “Hoosier,” which today is the demonym used to describe people from the state of Indiana, is a mystery nearing its second century. It is one of the best-known irregular demonyms for American states, along with “Yankee,” referring to someone from New York (and sometimes expanded from that into the entire Northeast), and “Buckeye,” which refers to someone from Ohio. But if you ask a Hoosier where that word comes from, you’re likely to come away with any number of apocryphal stories. Ask an expert, and they’ll tell you the truth: nobody knows what the word means, or where it came from.
The word seems to be connected to a frontier riverboat culture which may explain how the term became pejorative in St. Louis.
Many of the folk tales of the origin of Hoosier come back to a sort of rural toughness and grit—at least, that’s the positive view. The more negative view would be that Hoosier is often explained as coming from some scornful cousin of words like redneck or hillbilly.
Indeed, I would describe the way folks from St. Louis (St. Louisans) apply hoosier as an adjective which is a “scornful cousin” of redneck.
There are many Hooserorigin stories. I’m going to quote (from Atlas Obscura) the one I like best and which I have the best chance of remembering:
Another, similar one: A group of riverboat men are out at a bar. There’s a fight, and somebody bites someone else’s ear off. This was such a common occurrence that the next day, someone might walk into the bar, nudge the ear with a toe, and casually inquire: “Whose ear?”
Other State Denonyms
The rest of the official state denomyms are mostly predictable and uniformly boring consisting of adding an n, an an, an ian an er or an ite.
The only exception besides the Hoosier of Indiana is Hawaii which has the dull demonym of “Hawaii resident” because (per Wikipedia) “The Associated Press Stylebook restricts use of “Hawaiian” to people of Native Hawaiian descent.
For we Oklahomans we have both a derogatory unofficial denonym (Okie) and one demonym of which we are inexplicably proud (Sooner.) (The term Sooners was applied to those settlers who entered the “Unassigned Lands” in 1889 prior to the designated time. They were, at a minimum, cheaters if not outright criminals.)
My apologies to any Hoosiers I have offended but now you know my aim was to be inoffensive. Feel free to share your favorite Hoosier origin story. For those of you who are familiar with the pejorative hoosier let me know where you live and what it meant there.
9 thoughts on “Mangling State Demonyms: From Hoosier to Sooner”
As a Hoosier by state of birth, current residence and university education, I suspect those complaining about being called a Indianan may be suffering from a terminal case of nonsensical hysteria.
At the risk of upsetting many hysterical Hoosiers, I couldn’t agree more 🙂
As a Kentucky forester, I am fond of pointing out that Ohio buckeye, the tree from which the state gets its demonym is also called stinking buckeye, and is the most toxic tree in North America. All plant parts contain the coumarin glycoside aesculin and a mixture of saponins known as aescin.
That’s great information to hold over my Buckeye friends. As a “coumarin glycoside” I wonder if consumption results in hemorrhage and/or cardiac toxicity. Perhaps the stinking nature of the buckeye prevents any creatures from eating it?
I’m a Hoosier and took no offense whatsoever. There’s plenty of intentional offense out there; no need to go looking for it. Frankly, have other things to do. Love your blog!
When I first moved to St Louis (after having lived in Indianapolis for 5 years), I had a very confusing conversation with someone. They told me about a friend’s prior girlfriend (who was from Virginia) being a “Hoosier.” I asked “I thought you said she was from Virginia??” The person laughed and looked at me strangely. This person finally explained to me that he meant that this woman was white trash. I was instantly fascinated by this and started looking up how this term here started. The most prominent explanation I came across on the web was that there was once a large labor strike at Anheuser-Busch in St Louis, and a large amount of people from Indiana (Hoosiers) came to break the strike line (scabs) angering the St Louisian strikers. Thus the derogatory term was invented. It has now become a regular part of my vocabulary here in St Louis after being here for 11 years. I’ve even adopted the shortened version “Hooz” to show my local cred haha. What’s funny is, people here that are described as “Hooz” embrace it and are even proud of their Hooiser-ness. It’s not a nasty term like white trash is. It’s just a term here to describe people with certain tastes and characteristics. I still have some friends back in Indiana, so when they visit here in St Louis, it still makes for some confusing conversations occasionally! ha!
Great Story, Jen!
I wonder if there are any out there who know hoosier in the way we use it in St. Louis?
I’m from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and have never heard or been called a Massachusettsan. But thanks for link. It notes semi official “Bay Stater.” Overall I don’t think we are called anything popular like Sooner, Hoosier etc. But we use Mass often: Mass General, Mass Pike, Mass Ave. UMass.
Yeah. Massachusettsan seems odd and clunky