The Crow word “squaw” is untranslatable in the English language. The closest translation for the word is “the totality of being female”. Early frontiersmen and French fur traders believed that the word refereed to a woman’s private parts. They used the word as an insult, but its original meaning was not insulting at all. On the contrary it seemed as though it was an empowering word for being female.

I think the negative connotation for the word probably comes from the way it sounds. It is easy to imagine that the first settlers of the West and the Indians used a lot of pointing and elementary sign language to understand the meaning of different words. I can only imagine what the settlers presumed was a “squaw” when a Crow Indian was showing them the difference between a man and a woman. They all must have been a little “lost in translation”.

The sound of the word alone for some reason sets the impression in an English speaker’s mind that it is a bad word. The meaning of the word “hussy” in our language has also been changed into an insult. Originally it meant the mistress of a household, or a housewife. Now a day if you call a woman a hussy be prepared to be slapped. Just like as “squaw” the meaning of the word had been changed. Words in the end are just a symbol for a person, place, thing, action, feeling, etc. The way that we interpret the word is what gives it meaning. So to the Crow a “squaw” is a positive word for being female; for the early white settlers it became a derogatory slang word.

Information found at: http://www.nativeweb.org/pages/legal/squaw.html

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