More on Tonto, Kemosabe [WAS Re: does anyone need another example of positive ANYMORE?]

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at YAHOO.COM
Fri Feb 15 16:34:26 UTC 2008

The Straight Dope:

  Personally - and remember how gullible I am - it's hard for me to believe that somebody intentionally named the LR's savior and associate "Lunkhead" or something similar.  Because if he had, I'd expect that the character would have been portrayed as a butt or buffoon, which he wasn't.  I'd also expect him to have been a Mexican Sancho Panza type, not a Native American.

  My SWAG is that whoever named "Tonto" was thinking, perhaps unconsciously, of the Tonto Basin, which is not only on maps but also provided the title for Zane Grey's story "The Tonto Basin," published in 1922.  He also wrote the novel _Under the Tonto Rim_ (1926). So "Tonto" was a catchy Western name, already hallowed by ZG before 1931.  "Lunkhead" connections are _at least as likely_ to be _post facto_ (not to mention "postmodern").

  I don't know if the LR's adventures were supposed to take place primarily in Arizona, but the scenery of the TV show (and the godawful 1981 movie) was mostly desert - perhaps owing to budgetary constraints.


Gregory McNamee <gm at GREGORYMCNAMEE.COM> wrote:
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Sender: American Dialect Society
Poster: Gregory McNamee
Subject: Re: does anyone need another example of positive ANYMORE?

Some standard sources--I'll hunt up references, but one is an
autobiography by a Yavapai (Kekwevaya) Indian scout that I've been
editing--say that "Tonto," meaning stupid or foolish, was an insult
given to an Apache band that allowed Spanish types to pass through
unharmed, rather than attack them at once. Other sources (see
, e.g.) say that "Tonto" is a gloss for what the Chiricahua Apaches
called that group, a phrase meaning "wild people." The high-pitched
business is, I'm betting, yet another of Wikipedia's many inventions,
which is a natural consequence of the encyclopedia anyone can edit.

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