What is the definition of redskin?
What is the definition of redskin? This week Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder told ESPN, “Redskin is a football player. A Redskin is our fans. The Washington Redskins fan base represents honor, represents respect, represents pride.” The reclamation of the word — often seen as a derogatory to Native Americans — has become a major focus for Snyder in the wake of a June court decision that deprived the NFL franchise of its federal trademark registration on the grounds that the team’s name is offensive.
The actual origin of the team’s name is uncertain. The franchise began as the Boston Braves in 1932 – taking the name of the baseball team with which they shared a field (the Braves later moved to Atlanta) – but became the Redskins in 1933 when the team moved into Fenway Park, in keeping with the Native American theme. In addition to being a nod to their recent past, some argue that the new name was also in honor of the team’s coach at the time, Lone Star Dietz, who claimed to be a member of the Sioux Nation. However, George Preston Marshall, the team’s owner at the time, directly rebutted this idea in a 1933 news article.
Snyder’s interview and accompanying media reports on his comments created a surge in searches on Oxford Dictionaries for the definition of redskin, which is defined as an American Indian, and labeled as dated and offensive. In case there’s any confusion as to the origin of the word — and there is bound to be, in the wake of Snyder’s comments — below is the usage note that accompanies the entry in the US version of OxfordDictionaries.com:
Redskin is first recorded in the late 17th century and was applied to the Algonquian peoples generally, but specifically to the Delaware (who lived in what is now southern New York State and New York City, New Jersey, and eastern Pennsylvania). Redskin referred not to the natural skin color of the Delaware, but to their use of vermilion face paint and body paint. In time, however, through a process that in linguistics is called pejoration, by which a neutral term acquires an unfavorable connotation or denotation, redskin lost its neutral, accurate descriptive sense and became a term of disparagement. Red man is first recorded in the early 17th century and was originally neutral in tone. Red Indian is first recorded in the early 19th century and was used by the British, far more than by Americans, to distinguish the Indians of the subcontinent from the Indians of the Americas. All three terms are dated or offensive. American Indian and Native American are now the standard umbrella terms. Of course, if it is possible or appropriate, one can also use specific tribal names (Cheyenne, Nez Percé, etc.).