More on Kemosabe

Joel S. Berson Berson at ATT.NET
Fri Feb 15 16:59:43 UTC 2008

The following seems a pretty obvious speculation, but Cecil does not
mention it.  There is in the OED "sabe n.  ...  slang (orig.U.S.)  =
savvy n.  1872 B. Harte in Atlantic Monthly Mar. 352/2 Did n't hev no
more sabe than to come round yar with sickness in the house and no
provision.  1892 Kipling & Balestier Naulahka 273 You have been
romping around for six months after something you hadn't the sabe to
hold when you'd got.  1913 J. London Valley of Moon 311 We ain't got
the sabe, or the knack, or something or other.

How about "kemosabe" = secret knowledge -- that is, someone who has
knowledge of things not known to others?  A scout.

One might also speculate about the name Kamp Kee-Mo Sah-Bee:  Appeal
to insiders -- we have special knowledge that you don't.


At 2/15/2008 11:34 AM, Jonathan Lighter wrote:
>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.
>   JL
>Gregory McNamee <gm at GREGORYMCNAMEE.COM> wrote:
>   ---------------------- Information from the mail header
> -----------------------
>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.
>The American Dialect Society -
>Be a better friend, newshound, and know-it-all with Yahoo!
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