[in-dee-uh n]



Origin of Indian

1350–1400; < Medieval Latin Indiānus; replacing Middle English Indien < Old French < Medieval Latin as above. See India, -an
Related formsnon-In·di·an, adjective, nounpre-In·di·an, noun, adjectivepro-In·di·an, adjectivepseu·do-In·di·an, adjective, nountrans-In·di·an, adjective

Usage note

Because Christopher Columbus mistakenly believed that the Caribbean island on which he had landed was the subcontinent of India, he called the inhabitants Indians. Eventually, that name was applied to almost all the indigenous, non-European inhabitants of North and South America. In modern times Indian may refer to an inhabitant of the subcontinent of India or of the East Indies, to a citizen of the Republic of India, or to a member of an aboriginal American people.
In the 18th century the term American Indian came to be used for the aboriginal inhabitants of the United States and Canada; it now includes the aboriginal peoples of South America as well. (When necessary, further distinctions are made with such terms as North American Indian and South American Indian. ) The terms Amerindian and Amerind subsequently developed in the attempt to reduce ambiguity. For some, especially among North American Indians, the preferred designation is Native American. All these terms appear in edited writing. Whether one or several will gain ascendancy over the others remains to be seen.
The only pre-European inhabitants of North America to whom Indian or other terms using the word Indian are not applied are the Eskimos or Inuit. See Eskimo. See also honest Injun, Indian giver. Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Related Words for indian

Amerind, Amerindian, Indian, injun

Examples from the Web for indian

Contemporary Examples of indian

Historical Examples of indian

  • Oh, I was an Indian in my time—a reg'ler measly hop-pickin' Siwash at that.

    The Spenders

    Harry Leon Wilson

  • It died just as the languages of most of our Indian tribes have become a thing of the past.

    Ancient Man

    Hendrik Willem van Loon

  • It secures us against all future annoyance from powerful Indian tribes.

  • "We called it the Stick-which-kills-flying," said the Indian, and hid it again under his blanket.

    The Trail Book

    Mary Austin

  • It was as much as any Spaniard could do to tell one half-naked Indian from another.

    The Trail Book

    Mary Austin

British Dictionary definitions for indian



a native, citizen, or inhabitant of the Republic of India
old-fashioned, taboo a Native American
(not in scholarly usage) any of the languages of Native Americans


of, relating to, or characteristic of India, its inhabitants, or any of their languages
(Not in scholarly usage) of, relating to, or characteristic of Native Americans or any of their languages


Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for indian


"inhabit of India or South Asia," c.1300 (noun and adjective); applied to the native inhabitants of the Americas from at least 1553, on the mistaken notion that America was the eastern end of Asia. Red Indian, to distinguish them from inhabitants of India, is first attested 1831 (Carlyle) but was not commonly used in North America. More than 500 modern phrases include Indian, most of them U.S. and most impugning honesty or intelligence, e.g. Indian giver, first attested 1765 in Indian gift:

An Indian gift is a proverbial expression, signifying a present for which an equivalent return is expected. [Thomas Hutchinson, "History of Massachusetts Bay," 1765]

Meaning "one who gives a gift and then asks for it back" first attested 1892.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper