Don’t be an Indian Giver.
It’s a phrase I used countless times both on the school bus and in the schoolyard growing up (probably ridiculously pissed off at one of my classmates who gave me a toy or a piece of candy and then immediately took it back).
So, today, when I used it in an email — sent out to thousands of people mind you — I didn’t think anything of it.
That is until I was met with a barrage of angry responses.
For a bit of context (without talking your ear off)…
And, in this email, I explained to my readers how I tend to buy two of the same book, that way I can gift a copy to a friend or client without having to be an “Indian Giver”.
(Or, giving the book and later asking for the book back.)
While I meant absolutely no harm by the phrase, it was wrong and shitty and ignorant to use and, thankfully, there were a few subscribers who were kind enough to point me in the direction of an NPR article where I could educate myself.
What I learned was eye-opening.
So much so that I felt it was worthwhile to write an entire article not just about the term but how language is fluid and how we as writers must be conscious of this fluidity.
Where did Indian giver come from?
Indian giver was born out of a cultural misunderstanding.
White settlers didn’t totally understand how “gift-giving” worked among Native Americans, who viewed the practice as almost sacred.
When Native Americans gave a gift to someone and it was not used, then it was viewed as disrespectful, and the item was then immediately taken back and likely gifted to someone else who would appreciate it.
Unfortunately, due to this misunderstanding, settlers viewed this tradition as deceitful and dishonest and the phrase “Indian gift” or “Indian giver” was born to describe someone who…
“…gives something to another and then takes it back or expects an equivalent in return.”
It’s fair to say Indian giver is one of the more derogatory colloquialisms in existence today.
But, it hasn’t always been this way.
Back in 1969 the band 1920 Fruitgum Company put out a song titled “Indian Giver” that captured the #5 Billboard spot.
Additionally, during the golden age of Seinfeld, he wrote an entire episode around the term.
Even today, the phrase still makes its way into comedy skits. Louis CK did the following riff on the term a little while back…
“We equate this to the Indians, because our feeling is that they gave us America and… then they changed their minds about giving it to us, and it’s so offensive when you consider the truth.”
But, that was then, this is now.
Writers must constantly remind themselves that the English language is wildly liquid. It morphs and changes and transforms with the times. What’s appropriate today might be incredibly inappropriate tomorrow and vice versa.
I use curse words like ass and hell and shit and bastard in my writing constantly and still run a successful marketing business.
With that said, while I will never apologize for using foul language or being edgy and abrasive, I will always say sorry when I offend other people on the basis of ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation.
As a man who is a melting pot of several races — Syrian, Japanese and Canadian Indian (no, the irony is not lost on me) — I should simply know better or do the proper research so I can know better.
So, with all that said, from here on out I will be leaving the term Indian giver on the school bus. And, I think the rest of humanity should too.
But, I digress.
By Cole Schafer.
You gotta check this out — Sticky Notes is my email list reserved strictly for entrepreneurs and creatives looking to sell like a Florida Snow Cone Vendor on the hottest day of the year.
Originally published at https://www.honeycopy.com on June 9, 2020.