ST. LOUIS, Mo. — The word hoosier has a much different meaning in St. Louis than in Indianapolis. It can be an insult in Missouri or a point of pride in Indiana. The word is unique in local dialects, according to a paper published by New York University’s Department of Linguistics in 2018. It thrives despite alternatives like “redneck.” Although, it is still not clear where the word came from.

The state of Indiana adopted the nickname The Hoosier State over 150 years ago. It was in general use by the 1840’s to refer to someone from the state. It may have come from people shouting “Who’s here?” before approaching a cabin on the frontier.

Another popular story says the word refers to hard-working groups of Indiana men. They worked for a “Mr. Hoosier” digging a canal near Louisville in the 1820’s and became known as Hoosiers. That story is also up for debate, since a record of a Mr. Hoosier cannot be found.

The Dictionary of American Regional English says that the use of the word hoosier to refer to “a rustic or countrified person” is concentrated in Missouri. It is not necessarily a compliment.

“Unlike similar slurs, its use requires knowledge of St. Louis’ social geography. Hoosier
allows speakers to demonstrate localness while positioning themselves and St. Louis as cosmopolitan compared to the derided target. As such, hoosier asserts positive values for St. Louisans who use it,” writes Daniel Duncan in Understanding St. Louis’ Love for
Hoosier.

Where did the St. Louis meaning come from? It may have come from a dispute between local union members and non-union workers brought in from Indiana. But, that urban legend has not been verified.

“Despite its derogatory, normative use, hoosier asserts a positive identity and values for STL. Given this, it is not surprising that locals have such an affinity for it. Depletion of the urban core through “White flight” to the suburbs and urban sprawl in general changed the social geography of STL, and residents are in a position of grappling with the politics of place. As long as that continues, we can expect hoosier to maintain its salient position in local speech,” writes Daniel Duncan.

So, it can also be a way for people to signal that they are from St. Louis. This is something that has recently become more popular. Now, one south St. Louis bar even calls itself The Golden Hoosier. You can even pick up a t-shirt that says, “South Side Hoosier” and wear it with pride.