December 23, 2004

What kemosabe really means

The Lone Ranger was on the radio every week when I was a kid. The cry "A cloud of dust and a hearty ‘Hi-Yo, Silver!'" rang out often on the playground. And in third grade, I remember a rash of jokes about what kemosabe really means. The gloss in the punchline was never respectful or even friendly, so I sympathize with the notion that the term can be an offensive one.

In response to a Reuters story about the same Nova Scotia court case that Bill Poser discussed earlier today, a site called "The Jokester" has recently posted several Lone Ranger jokes. They are all suitably bad, but none offers a hypothesis about the meaning of kemosabe. My favorite Lone Ranger joke, back in third grade, was this one (also lacking a gloss for kemosabe). I think that others must have agreed, because its punch line "what do you mean 'we', white man?" seems to have become a proverbial tag line.

Gary Larsen immortalized the genre of kemosabe jokes with a Far Side cartoon in which kemosabe turns out to be "an Apache expression for a horse's rear end." And a few of the other "meaning of kemosabe" jokes that I remember from third grade are still rattling around the internets, for example here.


Posted by Mark Liberman at December 23, 2004 09:44 AM