"Eskimo"

by Mark Israel
 
     [This is a fast-access FAQ excerpt.]

It now seems unlikely that "Eskimo" means "eater of raw meat".
Merriam-Webster changed its etymology when it brought out MWCD10,
and referred me to an article by Ives Goddard in Handbook of
North American Indians (Smithsonian, 1984), vol. 5, p. 5-7.
Goddard cites the following Amerindian words:

Montagnais ayassimew="Micmac"
Plains Cree ayaskimew="Eskimo"
Attikamek Cree ashkimew="Eskimo"
North Shore Montagnais kachikushu or kachekweshu="Eskimo"
   "not analysable but explained by speakers as meaning 'eater of
   raw meat'"
Ojibwa eshkipot="Eskimo" (literally "one who who eats raw")
Algonquin Eastern Ojibwa ashkipok="Eskimo" (literally "raw
   eaters")

   Goddard writes:  "In spite of the tenacity of the belief, both
among Algonquian speakers and in the anthropological and general
literature [...] that Eskimo means 'raw-meat eaters', this
explanation fits only the cited Ojibwa forms (containing Proto-
Algonquian *ashk- 'raw' and *po- 'eat') and cannot be correct
for the presumed Montagnais source of the word Eskimo itself. [...]
The Montagnais word awassimew (of which ay- is a reduplication)
and its unreduplicated Attikamek cognate exactly match Montagnais
assimew, Ojibwa ashkime 'she nets a snowshoe', and an origin
from a form meaning 'snowshoe-netter' could be considered if the
original Montagnais application (presumably before Montagnais
contact with Eskimos) were to Algonquians."

   A Dictionary of the Otchipwe Language by Bishop Frederic Baraga
(Beauchemin & Valois, 1878) gives ashkime="I lace or fill
snowshoes"; the phrase agim nind ashkima with the same meaning
(agim is the noun for "snowshoe"); askimaneiab="babiche, strings
of leather for lacing snowshoes"; and ashkimewin="art or
occupation of lacing snowshoes".  But there are no other obvious
cognates:  the words for "snowshoe", "lace", "leather", "net", and
"string" are all unrelated.  In all other words beginning with
"ashk-" or "oshk-", the prefix signifies "raw, fresh, new".

   Eskimos' self-designations include:

     singular  plural     language      places

     Inuk      Inuit      Inuktitut     Canada, West Greenland
     Inupiaq   Inupiat    Inupiaq       North Alaska
     Inuvialuk Inuvialuit               Mackenzie Delta
               Katladlit  Kalaallisut   Greenland
     Yupik                Yupik         Southwest Alaska
     Yuk       Yuit                     Siberia, St. Lawrence Island

"Inuk" and "Yuk" mean simply "person"; "Inupiaq" and "Inuvialuk" mean
"real, genuine person".

   Goddard writes:  "In the 1970s in Canada the name Inuit all but
replaced Eskimo in governmental and scientific publication and the
mass media, largely in response to demands from Eskimo political
associations.  The erroneous belief that Eskimo was a pejorative
term meaning 'eater of raw flesh' had a major influence on this
shift.  The Inuit Circumpolar Conference meeting in Barrow, Alaska,
in 1977 officially adopted Inuit as a designation for all Eskimos,
regardless of their local usages [...]."

   For the the number of words the Eskimos supposedly have for snow,
see the sci.lang FAQ, or the alt.folklore.urban archive under
<http://www.urbanlegends.com>.