Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Hoosiers of the St. Louis sort

To most Americans, the word hoosier means "person from Indiana." Indianans proudly call themselves hoosiers. In my native St. Louis, however, the meaning of the term is rather different: it's a very insulting term meaning, basically, "hick" or "redneck." Oddly, the hoosier-as-hick usage seems to be totally specific to the St. Louis area.

The Wikipedia article on "hoosier" specifically mentions the strange St. Louis usage: "In the St. Louis area of Missouri and Illinois, a hoosier may be someone who is lower-class and white (like white trash and redneck)." The Urban Dictionary lists 20 definitions of hoosier, 10 of which focus on and explicitly mention St. Louis. [One reader gives an example of how to use it: "I got cut off on Highway 40 this morning by some fucking Hoosier driving a Hemi covered in American flags and "W" 2004 stickers."] In a long essay exploring the origins of the term hoosier, Jeffrey Graf of the University of Indiana devotes two paragraphs to the St. Louis usage.

So what is a "hoosier"? And why do St. Louisans use it in a way that no one else does? Well, no one really knows. Some think that it originally meant country bumpkin and that the negative usage faded almost everywhere but St. Louis. Others think it was originally a greeting--"who's there?"--that got slurred over time. The links above list other theories.


warm fuzzy said...

The definition 2 on the Urban dictionary by westcountygirl is inaccurate. Hoosiers are not anyone who are not " from West St. Louis County, meaning lower or middle class person." That girl is a complete snob.

Lower and middle class people are not necessarily hoosiers. Money may be one component, but it's more an attitude and style that defines a hoosier (I'm thinking mullets, beer cozies, etc). It's just like not all rich people are bitches, but that girl is.

Squares and rectangles, people! Squares and rectangles!

warm fuzzy said...

I'd also like to point out another form of the word hoosier - "hooshh" I'm trying to spell that how it sounds. You might say, "that's totally hooshh, man."

Squishy Burrito said...

take off you hoosier! eh

Jason Goldman said...

I've lived outside St. Louis for more than 10 years and I still have to self-correct to not use hoosier in a derogatory context. Which is a shame because it's a fun and funny word to say.

dgcopter said...

Holy crap, I've never realized that we St. Louisians are the only ones who use it in a derogatory way! This resolves a lot of cognitive dissonance for me with the whole Indiana thing.

nora said...

warm fuzzy -

I think you're looking for "hoozh" that ends similarly to the French pronunciation of "j." I totally agree with your usage though, and use it frequently myself. I like to tell my brother to "quit being such a hoozh." I don't know if the spelling I've noted quite works, but I think explaining that it's pronounced with the French "J" may be helpful.

I also agree with your analysis of it's real meaning. "White trash" is a nebulous idea meaning lots of thinks to lots of people. Somehow though, as derogatory as hoosier is, I still think calling someone white trash is worse.

Interestingly though, I think hoosier is generally only applied to white victims. I don't know that I've heard it used to refer to anyone of any other ethnic ancestry besides white European. I think there are lots of terms in use for those of other ethnicities that probably imply similar things, but are far worse and insulting to actually say.

In high school (and feel free to ask where I went ;) ) my friends coinded the term "hoorgeoise" or "hoogeoise" which combines hoosier and bourgeoise (the "hoozh" + "geoise"). We used this to kind of refer to hoosiers as a social group or order.

squishy burrito -

I think you are looking for "hoser," which I feel is somewhat of a Canadian counterpart to the St. Louis "hoosier."

Jason -

I grew up in STL and now live in Chicago, so I'm constantly tempering my urge to use hoosier and all it's derivatives. I too wish more people "got it." I'm tired of the blank stares!

Anonymous said...

I'm theorizing that one time in the early pioneer past, during the mid-1800s, a wagon train of Indianans headed out west through St. Louis on their way to California.

They were probably the lowest of low lifers, perhaps pushed out of Indiana for that reason. They probably got good and drunk, went on a rampaging toot, tore up the town, and raised a hundred kinds of hell, thereby imprinting themselves forever into the memory and folklore of St. Louisans....."Those damned Hoosiers!!!!!!!!!!!"

Being born and raised in St. Louis, I was 30 years or so old before I ever knew that ordinary people from Indiana were Hoosiers.

Mostly, I thought it applied to all my country relatives from southeast Missouri.