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A Lesson on Arctic Peoples: They're Not Called Eskimos

There are different people groups that inhabit the arctic regions of Canada, Siberia, Alaska, and Greenland. And none of them refer to themselves as "Eskimos". It's an outsider term which may be considered "racist" or "offensive". Rather the proper name for these people groups is "Inuit" though there are also various Arctic groups apart from the Inuits such as the Aleut, Nunavut, and Yupik. So where does the term "Eskimo" come from and why has it been used to refer to people who live in the Arctic regions? Read more on Popula.

(Image credit: Wikimedia Commons)


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From a few people I've talked to from the far north, I've found the word Eskimo to be a mess, as there seems there is, or at least was, a big east vs. west difference. The further east you go, the move obviously it was considered offensive. On the other hand in the west I've heard mixed reactions, not coincidentally because that is where Yupik groups are from and some individuals really do not like being called Inuit and would much prefer another umbrella term like Eskimo. I've seen a lot a arguing over the etymology of Eskimo and implications, but as far as I know a lot of that was baseless (as is common for online etymology arguments, especially about false cognates). And at the end of the day, the current usage and meaning is what is important in this context. Anyway, when in doubt with such things, it is easy enough to just avoid such words almost all of the time. And even without that mess, the far north still has some major racism issues that need resolving.

As to the rest of the article, if anyone is interested in work on the Sapir–Whorf hypothesis with far less baggage than names for snow, I have seen a lot of popsci stuff now written on research into color terminology across cultures. There are other topics like names for cardinal directions that are interesting too, but the work on color seems to be much better for broad collection of data. Wikipedia at least has a dry summary of some of the work on color naming and in particular blue green distinctions.
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