Monday, March 2, 2009

Hoosiers and the history of

To give you a little background, the last place I lived in the Chicago area was on the Indiana side of the border. Crown Point to be exact. There is, or at least was, a sentiment that Indiana was beneath the Illinois side while I was growing up. I'm sure Indiana residents didn't feel the same. It wasn't really that horrible of a rivalry. It was playful ribbing on our part. Hoosier, though, was definitely a negative term. 
Not so in the rest of the world it seemed. Indiana University's basketball team is famously named the Hoosiers. In Indiana that is a term of pride though I'm not sure many of them could tell you what it meant. I contend that in most of the U.S. if you asked a person what a Hoosier was they would cite IU's nicknamed teams. And it wouldn't likely be a negative. Even today in Chicago you don't hear it as much. So many people are moving to Indiana for the considerably lower taxes and new housing that just about everyone is related to or friends with a "Hoosier".
In St Louis it's means something completely different though. Here, if you are referred to as a hoosier, it's a definite cutdown. It's similar to someone calling you white-trash or a redneck and that's all it means. It doesn't matter what state you are from at all. And just about everyone uses it.
I had first heard it years ago when visiting St Louis but thought they were referring to people the same way we did in Chicago. But when I moved here I began to hear it all the time and definitely picked up on the more negative tone. I also, at first, thought they were referring to me with my Indiana license plates. It drove me crazy. There was no way that bartender knew I'm from Indiana... Ha! 
One day I was having a discussion with a friend who often joked with me about living in Indiana and I mentioned the different hoosier meanings. She decided to Google it and lo and behold, there was a full article describing the usage of the word hoosier. They even specifically mention the small pocket of the country where it is used mostly in a negative way. Yep, I'm looking at you St louis:
While "hoosier" may still be heard in areas of the south in its original, disparaging meaning of "uncouth rustic," the term seems to be slowly loosing currency. One important pocket of linguistic resistance, however, remains. Thomas E. Murray carefully analysed the use of "hoosier" in St. Louis, Missouri, where it is the favorite epithet of abuse. "When asked what a Hoosier is," Murray writes, "St. Louisans readily list a number of defining characteristics, among which are 'lazy,' 'slow-moving,' 'derelict,' and 'irresponsible.'" He continues, "Few epithets in St. Louis carry the pejorative connotations or the potential for eliciting negative responses that hoosier does." He conducted tests and interviews across lines of age and race and tabulated the results. He found the term ecuminically applied.
How's that for some research?  The full article can be found here for those interested. 
Just one of the many strange and wonderful things about St Louis. It really is one cool, unique city. I'm not sure the residents here know what they have. To be discussed in the future.


  1. I look forward to a post of why you think the residents aren't aware of what they have. I don't want to take offense at that statement, but as a resident I'm not sure where that comes from. I love this city.

  2. Point taken! I'm not one to make that broad of a statement. There are certainly those that know and take advantage of this awesome city, but as you'll read in a further post, I've gotten some very strong reaction to telling people that I moved here from Chicago. Specifically, an incredulous, "Why?"
    Again not everyone... But there certainly seems to be a prevailing notion among much of the populous that St Louis is somehow inferior to most cities. I better stop before this become s my post. :) But thanks for the comment!

  3. That's the good ol' St. Louis inferiority complex right there. Hard to explain, but you encounter it almost everywhere in the city and surrounding 'burbs.

  4. At least we're not hoosiers! Most of us at least :-)

  5. Amazingly cool find. Thanks so much for posting. I, too, look forward to your observations about why St. Louis is St. Louis's worst enemy so often.

  6. I made the first comment and what you said is true. I look forward to reading your future post. Thanks for responding.

  7. As I understand it, there was a worker strike at a tire plant and some scabs were brought in from southern Indiana. For those that haven't had the pleasure of traveling through southern Indiana, yes, there is an abundance of rednecks. Perfect people to whom one could pay crap wages until a strike ends. So, the term "hoosier" is based on those folks being "Hoosiers." Now, I'm an Indiana native, and to hear people from Missour-ah act as if they have anything to brag about over anyone save people from Arkansas frustrates me to no end. Personally, I think Missour-ah is a backwater state.

  8. Really enjoy your blog. Hope to run into you in Soulard or on Washington Blvd.

  9. Thanks so much. I've gotten much more of a response from it than I could have ever imagined. Being anonymous though it will be hard to run into you. :)

  10. Whoa-you photograph really differently from one shot to the next, don't you? Anyway, yes, to the rest of the world, "hoosier" refers to people in/from Indiana. Even my friend born and raised in Paris, France calls people from Indiana "hoosiers." Apparently he saw the 80s film by the same name and it stuck.

    It was my experience, growing up in STL, that those who used the term (St Louis style), without a hint of irony, were often people aspiring not to be" hoosiers" themselves. As if they were moving up a certain social ladder with hoosier being at the bottom or close to it and definitely did not want to be known as such. So, calling others "hoosiers" somehow made them less so. Make sense? Yeah, it confused me too...

  11. I also wanted to comment on "MIKE FROM IN's" post...
    What a lot of people don't know is, that St Louis is a much older city than most other cities in the Midwest, or in the country for that matter. With a rich history and traditions that haven't changed much. St Louisans are fiercely loyal and proud of their city, myself, being a native, included. I now live in NY and most of my friends here couldn't point out STL on a map and think of it as one giant trailer park, which is as ridiculous, if not more, than Midwesterners thinking of NY as a giant, crime ridden ghetto.

    When I tell friends here in NY about the history of St Louis, show them books on the architecture of STL, they marvel. "Really? St Louis? I had NO IDEA!"

    St Louisans tend to think of St Louis as separate from the rest of Missouri. There's St Louis, then there is Missouri. And interestingly all statistics, in terms of voting, education, income, lifestyle would support that. The exception being KC, which I know little about, my own fault, I suppose. Though, as I said, St Louisans tend to not be interested in the larger state and see themselves as set apart and socially superior.

    One other note on the use of "Missour-ah..." No one uses that other than politicians who think it resonates with people in Missouri. Which, btw, it does not. St Louisans definitely DO NOT use that pronunciation, nor in my brief travels around more rural parts of Missouri, north, south or Central, did I once EVER hear ANYONE use that expression. I asked friends who grew up in KC if they pronounced it "Missour-ah" and they said most definitely not and had no idea who in the state did. Just an interesting note. Hearing "Missour-ah" actually grates on most Missourians nerves.

  12. People in Indiana also have a name for folks from St Louis... Fucking Assholes. Now don't get me started on STL Bar-B-Q or the really awful fake "cheese" on their pizzas.

  13. You know what? It's actually been a little while since I've been to Indiana, but I don't recall anyone saying that when I lived there. A lot of things have happened in two years though... I suppose they *could* be saying that about people in St Louis.
    So I just talked to my Uncle who lives in Indianapolis and you're so right!!! Apparently this is a fairly new development in Indiana. According to Uncle Chris, people from St Louis are "Fucking Assholes", people from Omaha are "shitheads" and people from Billings are "Total Pussies". Crazy! I think calling people from Omaha shitheads is a little rough, but whatev... I don't want to judge.