- pl. -·mos· or -·mo· a member of a group of indigenous North American peoples thinly scattered in areas extending from Greenland across N Canada and Alaska through the NE tip of Asia
- any of the languages of the Eskimos, belonging to the Eskimo-Aleut language family
Origin of Eskimoearlier Esquimaw(es), probably via French from Spanish esquimao(s) (used by 16th-c. Basque fishermen in Labrador) from Montagnais ayashkimew, literally , uncertain or unknown; perhaps snowshoe net makers
nounpl. Eskimo, or Es·ki·mos
- A member of any of a group of peoples inhabiting the Arctic coastal regions of North America and parts of Greenland and northeast Siberia. See Usage Note at Native American.
- Any of the languages of the Eskimo peoples.
Origin of EskimoFrench Esquimaux possibly from Spanish esquimao, esquimal from Montagnais ayashkimew Micmac
Usage Note: Eskimo has long been criticized as an offensive term, and many Americans either avoid it or feel uncomfortable using it. In Canada, where Eskimo is especially frowned on, the only acceptable term is Inuit, and Americans have generally come to prefer this name too, knowing it to be a term of ethnic pride. But it is not always understood that Inuit cannot substitute for Eskimo in all cases, being restricted in proper usage to the Inuit-speaking peoples of Arctic Canada and parts of Greenland. In southwest Alaska and Arctic Siberia, where Inuit is not spoken, the comparable term is Yupik, which has not gained as wide a currency in English as Inuit. While use of these more specific terms is generally preferable when speaking of the appropriate linguistic group, none of them can be used of the Eskimoan peoples as a whole; the only inclusive term remains Eskimo. • The claim that Eskimo is offensive is often supported by citing a popular etymology tracing its origin to an Abenaki word meaning “eaters of raw meat.” Though modern linguists speculate that the term may actually derive from a Montagnais word referring to the manner of lacing a snowshoe, the matter remains undecided, and meanwhile many English speakers have learned to perceive Eskimo as a derogatory term invented by outsiders in scornful reference to their neighbors' eating habits. See Usage Note at Inuit.
Eskimo has come to be considered offensive, especially in Canada. However, it remains an acceptable term for northern peoples in Alaska—including the Inuit Inupiat and the non-Inuit Yupik—and the only encompassing term for all of these Arctic peoples. It is also used worldwide by historians and archaeologists.
The name declined in use because it was thought to stem from a Cree pejorative meaning “eaters of raw meat” rather than from the Inuit people's name for themselves, but this etymology is now discredited (in fact, both the Cree and Inuit ate raw meat).
In Canada, Eskimo has been superseded by Inuit for the people, which name has official status, and Inuktitut for the language. The Inuit group of Canada's Western Arctic call themselves Inuvialuit. Greenland natives also call themselves Greenlanders or Kalaallit, and their language Greenlandic or Kalaallisut.
(plural Eskimo or Eskimos)
- A member of any of the Eskimo peoples.
(comparative more Eskimo, superlative most Eskimo)
- Of or relating to the Eskimo peoples.
- In, of, or relating to the Eskimo languages.
First attested 1584 in the (now obsolete) spelling Esquimawe, from French Esquimaux (“Eskimos (plural)”), from Spanish esquimao, esquimal (used by Basque fishermen in Labrad), from Old Montagnais ayaškimew (“snowshoe-netter”) (compare Montagnais assime·w (“she laces a snowshoe”), Ojibwe aškime·, aagimike). The name was originally applied by the Innu people to the Mi'kmaq and later transferred to the Labrador Inuit; see the usage notes below. It was also once thought to mean "eaters of raw meat", but most authorities now dismiss this.