Sound familiar? It"s the schoolyard taunt that"s been provided for generations by kids (and others) come describe people so ungenerous that they take earlier gifts as quickly as lock are offered or instantly demand a existing in return.

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Comedian louis CK phone call the phrase "one of many offensive points you can call someone."



"What it"s expected to be is that someone gave you something and then adjusted their minds, described the comedian. "We equate this come the Indians, because our emotion is the they gave us America and... Climate they readjusted their minds around giving it come us, and also it"s therefore offensive as soon as you take into consideration the truth."

But whereby did the ide of "Indian giving" really come from? was there actually an instance when a white settler was presented through a gift, only to have actually it take away away?

The answer to the is... Not really. What white inhabitants thought was rudeness and a lack of generosity was largely likely rooted in a series of social misunderstandings.

The concept of an "Indian gift" or one "Indian giver" traces that is roots back to at least the 1700s. In his 1765 History that the district of Massachusetts Bay, "Thomas Hutchinson identified an Indian gift as a current "for which an indistinguishable return is expected."


During their legendary journey West in 1804, explorers Meriwether Lewis and also William Clark frequently encountered Indians over the food of their travels. The picture the pair paints of Indians and their culture was not pretty. Lewis and also Clark commonly suspected indians of either stealing their belongings or plotting to do so. Gifts in particular, as cutting board P. Slaughter points out in his publication Exploring Lewis and Clark: reflect on Men and Wilderness, commonly created difficulties for the explorers.

Slaughter writes the in one instance, a group of Indians offered Lewis and Clark some roots, which the explorers rejected since they felt the " expectation because that those gift of a few roots is 3 or four times their actual worth." transforming down the gift, however, insulted your hosts and led Lewis and also Clark to brand the ind "forward and impertinent, and also thievish," in their journals.

Author David Wilton suggests in his 2004 book Word Myths: Debunking etymological Urban Legends the the ide of an "Indian gift" developed when white settlers misinterpreted the native American principle of bartering:


"To an Indian, the giving of gifts was an extension of this device of trade and also a gift was expected to be reciprocated with something of equal value. Europeans, top top encountering this practice, misunderstood it, considering it uncouth and impolite. To them, trade was performed with money and gifts were openly given through nothing meant in return. Therefore this native practice acquired a bad reputation amongst the white colonists of north America and also the term eventually came to be a playground insult."


This meaning stuck and also the phrase "Indian giver" made its very first appearance in linguist man Russell Barlett"s thesaurus of Americanisms in 1848.

By the beforehand 1900s, see the words "Indian giver" in a newspaper or magazine was commonplace. "Indian Giver, says Ex-Wife, the Hubby" declared a 1919 title in the Detroit Free-Press article around a husband who demanded his wife return part gifts during a divorce proceeding. The expression seemed to commonly pop up in coverage the divorces and messy breakups. "Indian Giver defeated in "Dream House" Suit" review a headline in the Los Angeles time describing the actress Iris Ashton Evens" 1930 victory versus her former lover, the mine owner Walter J. Browning.

In 1969, the bubblegum pop team 1910 Fruitgum Company experienced their undeniably catchy song "Indian Giver" rise the Billboard charts, peaking in ~ number 5. (The song"s chorus: Indian giver... Indian giver... Friend took your love far from me."). And also perhaps the many memorable recommendation came in a 1993 episode of Seinfeld, in which the offensiveness of the term was central to the joke.

The term mainly faded native widespread usage in the 80s and 90s and many millennials today may have actually heard it for the very first time throughout the Kim Kardashian-Kris Humphries divorce, of all things. The expression made an regrettably comeback of sorts in 2011, when reality TV star Kris zener told Good Morning America that she "hates one Indian giver... It"s a gift, you should keep her gift," while introduce to she soon-to-be ex-son-in-law request that the $2 million engagement ring he presented Kim Kardashian be returned.



Explorers Lewis and also Clark were offended by a trade-gone-wrong and wrote in your journals that the team of indians they connected with were "forward and impertinent, and thievish." Wikimedia Commons
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Wikimedia Commons

While extending the fallout of the Kris zener comments, the blog native Appropriations wrote:


"...I think we deserve to all agree the it"s more than likely not the ideal term to use to explain a negative act, considering it stereotypes Indians together deceitful and also un-generous (not generous?), which, if you"ve ever remained in a indigenous community, is about the farthest point from the truth. Ever heard the giveaways? or Potlatches?"


Alas, it isn"t true that "we have the right to all agree" the the phrase is inappropriate. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines an "Indian giver" as "a human being who provides something to another and also then take away it back or expects an indistinguishable in return." The term, the dictionary notes in italics, is "sometimes offensive."

Sigh. Also now, in 2013, the dictionary an interpretation of the phrase only deems that sometimes offensive. while it"s always startling to discover ingrained racism in the dictionary, even an ext jaw-dropping is the definition from 1962"s Dictionary of Word and also Phrase Origins through William and Mary Morris.

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The entry starts on a progressive (for 1962) note, as the authors applaud the current trend in film the rejected "the old ide of the Indian together a ruthless, bloodthirsty warrior." The article"s conclusion, however, is stunning:


"If you room willing come concede that the Indians sometimes employed trick in your dealings through the whites, friend will understand why the white man came to use words Indian as a synonym because that "bogus" or, to use a favorite adjective of children, "pretend." for this reason an Indian giver is, in a youngster"s own language, just a "pretend giver.""


Emphasis mine. Keep in mind the intake of the words "trickery", "bogus" and "pretend." the should likewise be provided that the dictionary this passage showed up in was appropriate on the shelf that my regional library — a distinct reminder the while language evolves, the referral section doesn"t always catch up. William and Mary Morris most likely did not realize it in ~ the time, but in this one paragraph, they regulated to neatly summarize around 200 years of stereotypes about Native Americans.