In the recent discussion of finding a mascot for Indiana University athletics, there is an element of redundancy. Indiana already has a venerable mascot, and that's "Hoosier". Never mind that no one knows that a "Hoosier" is. To add a mascot would be to involve the awkward, redundant, possibly extraneous phrase: "Indiana Hoosier Bisons" or "Indiana Hoosier Durocs" or the "Indiana Hoosier Bulls" (cf. Hoosier Times, Sunday, February 10, 2002). It's a safe assumption that mysterious as "Hoosier" may be, no one in the state of Indiana wishes to abandon the moniker.
Actually, the "Hoosier" would be an excellent mascot.
The trouble with all the fanciful etymologies for "hoosier" is that none of them explains why the people of Indiana over a period of five or more generations stuck proudly with this self-reference. Who would call themselves "Who's Ear" (as James Whitcomb Riley suggested, not very seriously)? Who would identify themselves proudly as someone "who's here" (which is grammatially incorrect, unless one is talking about a single Hoosier -- patently implausible because this is a rallying cry for a group). The most plausible explanation for "Hoosier" is that it sprang from Kosciusko County in the northern part of the state. Indeed,Thaddeus Kosciuszko, a Polish noble who fought with George Washington in the Revolutionary War, may have been the first "Hoosier". "Hoosier" reflects the American penchant over the years of mispronouncing words and placenames from other languages (see "Gnaw Bone" for "Narbonne" and "Buffalo" for "Beau Fleuve"), and is a corruption of the Polish word, "huzar" or "husar" (Hungarian, huszar, Russian hussar, French hussard) which before the 15th century, according to the Oxford English Dictionary meant, "freebooter, "freelance", related to the Italian corsaro, corsare, corsair). Then, in the second half of the 15th century, it acquired the meaning of "light horsemen." It is this sense that the term could be applied to the dashing, heroic light calvary regiments who "fought with George Washington in the Revolutionary War."
The military connotations of "hoosier" are strikingly reinforced in the Journal of the Kosciuszko Guards by William S. Hemphill, the original of which may be found at the Warsaw Community Library. The Journal was transcribed by Marjorie Priser and made available in a data base titledYesteryear in Print, which may be found at: http://freepages.history.rootsweb.com/~kosco/)
According to Marjorie Priser, who wrote an introduction to her transcription in 1993, William S. Hemphill was born in 1832, and died in 1907. There is no indication of the exact year in which the journal was written, but it was, presumably, sometime in the years following the end of the Civil War in 1865 and before his death in 1907.
The word "hoosier" or "hoosiers" occurs frequently in the journal (in Chapters 2, 4, 6, 7, 8, 11). Indeed, the Indiana regiment who fought in the Civil War named their camp "Hoosiertown". Perhaps the most telling anecdote occurs in Chapter 11: when a splendid Massachusetts regiment disdains to soil their hands with the chore of moving a massive rock, the regiment from Indiana, referred to as "Hoosiers" in contradistinction to the Massachusetts regiment, sets about the project. The soldiers from Massachusetts merely look on. "A large, fine looking man," Hemphill recalls, "wearing a common soldier's blouse and slouch hat, in passing, had paused to watch the proceedings" began to berate the leader of the Massachusetts regiment, a 2nd lieutenant. Abashed, the 2nd lieutenant takes on airs, and threatens to teach the interloper some manners, but upon noticing that "the burly form of the Hoosier looked rather formidable," decided to appeal to Hemphill, who was in charge of the Indiana regiment. "Sergeant," the 2nd lieutenant said, " this is one of your men; arrest him and take him to your commanding officer. I will prefer charges against him and have him properly punished!" Hemphill took no action; as he reported later, because "I was so full of laughter that I could make no answer." When the interloping Hoosier realized how upset the 2nd lieutenant was, he makes a pretty speech -- if not an apology, then a polite remonstrance -- ending with these plainspoken words: "I guess the Sergeant will not arrest me, but if you wish to prefer charges against me, you can do so. I am Lieut. Col. George Humphrey, of the 12th Ind. Inf. at your service."
Hemphill adds: "It was a complete take down; and the Lieutenant's turn to apologize. The Hoosiers all joined in the laugh, and three cheers were given for Col. Humphrey, while the crest fallen Yankees quietly returned to their camp to wonder what kind of men the Hoosiers were any how."
Now this anecdote provides the motivation for the determined loyalty of the residents of Indiana for this nickname. It reflects not only people willing to roll up their sleeves and get the job done (in contrast to those who posture and pontificate), it also reflects the solidarity of a regimental corps, proud not only of their military prowess but of their loyalty to each other. The anecdote also stresses the importance of teamwork, a recurrent theme not only in the history of the United States (as in the Midwestern tradition of barn-raising), but in most if not all modern sports.
There could be no more appropriate mascot for Indiana University athletics than the image of a Hoosier, which initially designated light calvary horsemen, one of whom was a comrade-at-arms of George Washington, and later mutated into down-to-earth hardworking "grunts" of the 12th Indiana Infantry in the Civil War. I'm sure that research into the military uniforms of the 18th century would provide ample basis for an inspiring representation of an eighteenth-century "Hoosier".
Please, no bulls or pigs or owls for Indiana: what would the cheers sound like? "Snort, Snort" (a drunk's motto)? "Oink Oink" (male chauvinists)? "Hoot, Hoot" (too close to "Boo Hoo"!).
Indiana University already has a mascot.