|A Caucasian woman|
(photo by Chris Zerbes)
Adjective & noun. Early 17th century.
[from Caucasus (see below), Caucasia.]
A1 adj. Of, pertaining to, or inhabiting the Caucasus, a mountainous region between the Black and Caspian seas;
of or pertaining to the non-Indo-European languages of this region, including Circassian and Georgian. E17
A2 adj. Of, relating to, or designating the white or light-skinned division of humankind,
formerly supposed to have originated in the Caucasus. E19
B noun. A white or light-skinned person.
Also, a native or inhabitant of the Caucasus;
the Caucasian languages collectively. M19
It's an old joke - a policeman asks a hobo if the man that nicked his bindle was Caucasian. "Nah," replies the hobo, "he was a white fella." The hobo, being either too uneducated or too dim to understand that's exactly what the policeman was asking, assumed an exotic-sounding word like Caucasian must refer to some distant, dark-skinned race of people - a people that could be anything, perhaps, anything except white.
When one thinks about it, however, the fictional hobo's assumption isn't that ridiculous - Caucasian is a really odd word to use to refer to white people generally (or at least white people of European extraction). It also has a faux political correctness about it - as if the speaker is doing anything to avoid uttering the word white, and a technical-sounding word like Caucasian carries some kind of official credibility or quasi-scientific gravitas that other terms don't. So, as a white person of European extraction, a person that would never have objected to being described or referred to as Caucasian, I was curious to know where this word came from and why its use raises so few questions.
|Terminator II taught me many things - the word Caucasian was one of them|
|The Caucasus Mountains - from whence came all white people apparently (including Adam & Eve)|
Due to Blumenbach's academic work, Caucasian acquired a somewhat official status, and eventually became narrower in its definition as various ideas and theories of the time were superseded or discredited. Now, it's only used to refer to white people (or, y'know, people actually from the Caucasus), and as a term has become completely disconnected from the eponymous geographic region in Eastern Europe. Even then, its validity as a term of classification is questioned, and while it might not stimulate the same revulsion as some of its contemporary descriptors (Negroid, Mongoloid, etc), its continued use does seem oddly anachronistic considering the flawed theories that spawned it and the fact that most of us (and this is me speaking on behalf of all white people) would have difficulty picking the Caucasus out on a map, let alone having some revered ancestral connection to it.
Are you Caucasian?
Do you have a preference over the use of white, Caucasian, Caucasoid, or any other term?
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