December 20, 2008

The many meanings of "Wahoo"

I was curious about how the Wahoo board game got its name and whether it was linked to the scurrilous Chief Wahoo. So I did some Googling. I didn't come up with any clear answers, but I learned the word "wahoo" has several Indian roots.

Indian Names in Michigan

By Virgil J. VogelWahoo is a word with several uses. It can be a meaningless yell. It is the common name of a shrubby western tree, also called arrowwood or burning bush, of which there are two species, Euonymus atropurpureus and Euonymus americana. From that source, it is believed, comes the name of Wahoo, in Saunders County, Nebraska. W. R. Gerard held that this word was from the Dakota wahoo, which, with the first vowel nasalized, meant "arrowwood." J. P. Williamson's English-Dakota Dictionary lists wanhi (nasalized) for "arrowhead." The name of Wahoo has also been born by a southern tree of the elm family (Ulmus alata), and is drawn from the Muskhogean word uhahwu, of unknown meaning. Finally, Wahoo is the name of a species of salt water fish, Acanthocybium agrees about the wahoo name for arrowwood:Origin: 1855–60, Americanism; < Dakota wanhu, equiv. to wan- arrow + hu wood, shaftBut disagrees about the wahoo name for the elm:Origin: 1760–70, Americanism; orig. uncert.The Wahoo Indians

There are also historical references to "Wahoo Indians." Whether this was an actual tribe, a nickname for a tribe, or a nickname for Indians in general is unclear.

From a church posting in Florida:Wahoo Indians, dirt floors, a stick chimney, and hand-made pews. All have played a role in our church's rich heritage.

Organized during 1980's, New Hope United Methodist is probably the oldest church in Citrus County and one of the oldest active churches in Florida.

Our first building was made of logs with the earth used as our floor. Within its walls a pioneer community's needs were met: a school, a town-hall meeting place, and a fortress against Wahoo Indians to be were part of New Hope's beginnings.
From a journal titled American Agriculturist:We cannot teach "Wahoo Indians" that we can do without fences.

M.W. Philips.
Edward's Depot, Miss., June 14, 1846.
From a message about Atlantic Beach, Florida, posted on a racist forum:Population: 351
Niggers: 82%
Whites: 10%
Spics, Mulattoes, Quadroons, Octoroons, & Wahoo Indians 8%
A response to a forum posting titled "play casino with Indian teen girls":Are these wahoo Indians or Dunkin Donut/7eleven Indians? Thanks!!!Analysis

It seems the term "Wahoo Indians" was common in the South. I suppose this could've been a neutral term used to distinguish American Indians of the South from Plains Indians, West Indians, or Asian Indians. But it sounds like an offensive label meant to disparage Indians. Perhaps it implied they were a bunch of "wahoo"-yelling wretches, savage and uncivilized.

In any case, I don't know if the term "Wahoo Indians" has any connection to the plants, fish, or yell called wahoo.

I believe we can trace the Cleveland Indians' Chief Wahoo back to the Big Chief Wahoo character in the 1930s comic strip. But I don't know if "Big Chief Wahoo" came from the "Wahoo Indians" or another sense of the word "wahoo."

Finally, the Wahoo game may have debuted around the time of Big Chief Wahoo or the Cleveland Indians' Chief Wahoo. But again I don't know the source of the game's name.

1 comment:

dmarks said...

Check for a way-out for these guys, even the Cleveland Indians. They even have a fierce mascot there.

Next, to get a certain other team renamed the Washington Redinks. They can even have a silly mascot dancing on the fields: Bailout Bob.