For almost 200 years, people from Indiana have been calling themselves “Hoosiers”, but every time someone asks where the name came from, an ages-old debate is sparked between favorite wives’ tales and references in literature. It’s time to set the record straight (or at least attempt to do so)! Let’s figure out together what it really means to be a Hoo Hoo Hoo HOOSIER!
The use of the term “Hoosier” first appeared in the 1830s, when a poem by John Finley named “The Hoosier’s Nest” appeared in the Indianapolis Journal in 1833. Since then, the title has been synonymous with the people of Indiana. Several popular theories have sprouted up to explain the word’s origin over time, some more wild and wacky than others. Here are some of the most famous:
- Early in Indiana’s beginnings, settlers would answer the door with a quick “Who’s yere?” and the greeting eventually became our title.
- Indiana rivermen were notoriously good at silencing subduing their enemies that they became colloquially known as “Hushers”, and the name evolved into “Hoosiers” with our Midwestern accents.
- A contractor named Hoosier on the Louisville and Portland Canal preferred to hire his laborers from Indiana, and these men quickly became known as Hoosier’s men”.
- The most unbelievable (and gruesome) tall tale comes from James Whitcomb Riley, the famous Hoosier Poet. He stated that the state’s early settlers often took part in rowdy and dangerous fights, sometimes ending in severe bodily harm. Often times, the morning after a major tavern brawl, someone would walk in an find a torn-off ear or two on the floor and ask out loud: “Who’s ear?” Yuck!
What is your favorite theory? I always tell Riley’s story as if it’s truth to all my non-Hoosier friends, just to see the looks on their faces! Do you have any theories on the origins of the Hoosier?