What does the term “Indian sign” mean and Where does the phrase Indian sign come from?

Evidently Frederick Webb Hodge, editor of the Handbook of American Indians (1907), issued by the Smithsonian Institution and still regarded as the leading authority on Indian life and customs, did not foresee that movies, radio, and television would perpetuate, at least, among children, an interest in those first inhabitants of the continent.

On the meaning of the term “Indian sign” he says merely: “A Western colloquialism of the earlier settlement days for a trace of the recent presence of Indians.”

It is no longer a colloquialism, nor is it confined to the West, nor to early settlement days. But Hodge missed an expression familiarly used in the early days, “to put (or hang) the Injun sign on someone.”

By that we meant, to mark a person for injury or for defeat in a contest; to put a jinx on one; to wish him ill luck.

About Karen Hill

Karen Hill is a freelance writer, editor, and columnist. Born in New York, her work has appeared in the Examiner, Yahoo News, Buzzfeed, among others.

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