July 18, 2008

Indian really says "How"

An e-mail from a correspondent:I was at a party on the rez a couple of nights ago, and an Indian came into the room, raised his hand, and proclaimed "How!"

Well, I could not help but think of stereotypes. I'd never seen an Indian say "How!" for real before.
Did Indians really say "how" as a greeting?Dear Cecil:

Did Indians ever really say "how" in formal greeting? --Keath G., Baton Rouge, Louisiana

Dear Keath:

Not exactly, but you've hit on one of those rare bits of frontier rubbish that actually has some basis in fact. There is no such thing as a universal Indian greeting--the original inhabitants of North America spoke some 500 different languages--but we do find variants of "how" in the native speech of many Plains Indians tribes, who spoke versions of a major language called Siouan. The Tetons said "howo" and "ho," the Dakota had "hao" and "ho," and the Omaha had "hau" (and maybe "ho" too, but I didn't find it in my Omaha dictionary).
Comment:  For more on the subject, see Tonto Talk and Native Slang.

Below:  "How, paleface! Stop in and buy some trinkets."


Unknown said...


For the most part I like your writing but have 2 things to say to you. First, don't talk about us in the past tense, we are still here & still have a lot of our languages. And Lakota language the word is Hau sounds different than how non-Indians say it but it is a greeting and is still used.


Rob said...

I didn't utter a word about Indians in the past tense in this posting, so your criticism doesn't apply. Readers of this blog know I constantly speak about Indians in the present tense. But thanks for writing.