Boy, am I in trouble with the Hoosiers.
"Hoosiers," of course, is what people from Indiana proudly call themselves, and for an excellent reason, which I will explain shortly. Unfortunately, I managed to get a batch of Hoosiers very upset recently, when I wrote a column about which is the stupidest state.
For the record, I did NOT say that Indiana is the stupidest state. I believe that many states, including mine, are stupider than Indiana. What I did say — and I now realize that I was wrong — was that "Hoosier" is a stupid nickname. My argument was that nobody seemed to know what a "Hoosier" is, so why would you go around calling yourself one? I stated that, for all we know, "Hoosier" could be a Native American word for "has sex with caribou."
Many people wrote in to object, strongly, to that statement, including one Hoosier who pointed out that — and it is hard to argue with this logic — "Indiana has no caribou." Several Native Americans were also quite upset, so let me first apologize to them and state for the record that "Hoosier" is NOT a Native American word for "has sex with caribou." I am sure there IS no Native American word for "has sex with caribou," at least not referring to residents of Indiana, although I imagine there might be a Native American term to describe caribou having sex with other caribou, and I think we can all agree that this is perfectly proper.
I also wish to apologize to the dozen or so readers who were upset about reading the term "sex with caribou" in a family newspaper. I realize that, in this column, I have already used the term "sex with caribou" a number of times, but I frankly don't know how else I can explain what I am apologizing for. But you have my assurance that, as long as I am in charge of this column, you will not see the term "sex with caribou" again.
Speaking of having sex with caribou, we turn now to the many irate Indiana residents who wrote to point out that I am a moron for stating that nobody knows what "Hoosier" means. According to these people, EVERYBODY in Indiana knows what "Hoosier" means, and if I had just bothered to ask a Hoosier, I could have had the simple, well-known answer and would not have made such an idiot out of myself.
So to clear this issue up once and for all, here, according to the letters I received, is what "Hoosier" means:
— "Hoosier" was the name of a contractor who worked on the Ohio River in the early 19th century.
— "Hoosier" is a word meaning "highlander" or "hill-dweller."
— "Hoosier" is a word referring to anything large of its kind.
— "Hoosier" comes from when somebody would knock on a cabin door, and Indiana people would say, "Who's there?"
— "Hoosier" comes from when Indiana people would stand on the riverbank and shout to people on boats, "Who is ya?"
— "Hoosier" comes from when Indiana families would hold big reunions, and the mothers, referring to the children, would ask each other "Who's yours?"
— "Hoosier" comes from the aftermath of knife fights in Indiana taverns, when somebody would pick up a lump of flesh and say, "Whose ear?"
All of these explanations, which I am not making up, were sent in by actual Hoosiers. So from now on, when you hear people proudly refer to themselves as "Hoosiers" you will know exactly what they're referring to: an inquisitive, one-eared, hill-dwelling Ohio River contractor, large for his kind, who has a lot of trouble with pronunciation but does NOT have sex with caribou. Who WOULDN'T be proud!
While most of the irate mail came from Indiana, I did get some letters from people in other states, objecting to the fact that their state was not declared the stupidest. James Rose of White Plains, N.Y., pointed out that New York has declared an Official State Muffin. Rose also noted that: "The motto of New York State is 'Excelsior,' which means wood shavings."
On a more positive note, Dale Hinsverk of Wahpeton, N.D., wrote to tell me that when you encounter a North Dakotan driving on a rural road, "if they don't wave, that tells you they only have one arm." I have no idea what "Wahpeton" means, and I don't want to know, OK?
One closing grammar note: I got several letters from people who informed me that "stupidest" and "stupider" are not real words. To those people, I say, with gratitude and sincerity: Oh, shut up.
Dave Barry is a humor columnist for the Miami Herald. Write to him c/o The Miami Herald, One Herald Plaza, Miami, FL 33132. © The Miami Herald; Dist. by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services