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View Full Version : "Off the Reservation" current trendy derogatory term


HistorySleuth
01-06-2011, 08:17 AM
If this is in the wrong place, mods please move.

I've noticed over the last couple of years seeming intelligent people using the term "off the reservation." I hear it a lot by news reporters, and even writers here.

Now maybe I'm sensitive to it because I have several NA friends who live on reservations, and get inside scoop on a lot of how they feel about the phrase, living conditions, etc..

Have you ever stopped to think what that sounds like? What if I said:

"I don't know Bob, I think he's gone too far off the plantation on that one."

OR

"I can't believe she did that. Seems a bit outside the concentration camp to me."

Can you imagine the backlash if someone said that on cable TV news?

All three cases you are talking about people who were forcefully put somewhere they didn't want to be. As if it's a bad thing to want to leave.

When someone uses the term "off the reservation" it implies they did something out of control, or not within bounds of where we expect them to be with their decision. It's just a modern way of saying, "I think he's acting like a wild Indian," which is equally derogatory.

Cyia
01-06-2011, 08:20 AM
Apparently, it's only offensive if it's done by Mark Twain.

Williebee
01-06-2011, 08:26 AM
Been going on a lot longer than the last couple years, but yeah.

For me, "off the reservation" is up there with "drank the koolaid".

HistorySleuth
01-06-2011, 08:35 AM
I don't mean it as being the word police, that we should edit the classics if that's what you mean, Cyia. I expect to see words like that in the time frame it was written it was no big deal. I see a lot of things reading old newspapers. It just surprises me when the phrase is used today in general conversation.

I guess my real point is, would someone be offended if we all started saying "off the plantation." I bet there would be quite the media slam. I find it interesting how some offensive things are OK, and others are not. I guess it depends who its directed at. I think the three examples target specific ethnic groups.

Another good example Williebee, when you think about what it really means.

Cyia
01-06-2011, 08:37 AM
I knew what you meant. What I mean is that TPTB pick and choose what is and isn't offensive with little to know sense to their reasoning.

It should be obvious that one is as bad as the other, but somehow it doesn't register that way with certain phrases.

HistorySleuth
01-06-2011, 08:43 AM
Exactly. I just don't get that at all.

SPMiller
01-06-2011, 08:48 AM
Never heard this one before, but I don't like it.

Zoombie
01-06-2011, 08:50 AM
I too have never heard about it, actually. But yeah, not only does it sound kinda offensive, but it's also downright confusing to me.

HistorySleuth
01-06-2011, 09:00 AM
I admit, I just read it twice in the same thread on a post here at AW and I guess it put me over the edge. They're both good people too. I think really, people are getting used to using it and just haven't given it a thought as to what it really implies.

Cyia
01-06-2011, 09:10 AM
I too have never heard about it, actually. But yeah, not only does it sound kinda offensive, but it's also downright confusing to me.


It's a holdover from the days when Native Americans were forcibly kept (as in at gun point by the army) on the Res. When a person went off the reservation, it meant they were out of military control and a threat to society that needed to be stopped. It gets used in the same context as "loose cannon" except that a loose cannon on a ship is actually likely to do damage.

Clovia
01-06-2011, 09:21 AM
I'm familiar with it from spy/military novels and movies (when an agent goes rogue or their brainwashing goes haywire), but haven't heard it spoken in casual conversation before.

singsebastian
01-06-2011, 09:34 AM
There are better ways to say that someone is crazy.

"He's just gone off the deep end," - "She's off her rocker," -

I think this is more about which wording is better. :)
I know I shant use this. It does sound rather harsh and utterly uninteligent.

Clovia
01-06-2011, 09:43 AM
As an illustration of my ability to make my own sense, before it clicked (or maybe someone explained it, I was still a kid) that's not where the phrase came from, I thought "Off the Reservation" meant this kind:

ETA: Crap, let me go find a smaller pic. Sorry.

ETAA: Can't find a smaller one, so here's a military reservation (http://www.flickr.com/photos/8761778@N04/3880884864/) sign in someone's flickr stream.

Williebee
01-06-2011, 09:48 AM
Off the reservation didn't necessarily mean crazy. It also was a synonym for going "rogue", or not keeping with a plan.

wiktionary (http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/go_off_the_reservation)

Xelebes
01-06-2011, 10:17 AM
"Drank the Kool-aid" does not mean crazy to me, but rather misled in a superlative sense.

Williebee
01-06-2011, 10:21 AM
Sometimes it is "misled", sometimes it is "willingly went down that path".

Gale Haut
01-06-2011, 10:26 AM
Yeah, "drank the koolaid" is like making a bad decision when there are big neon warning signs pointing at the punch bowl. All signs point to NO.

I've never thought about "off the reservation" being derogatory. I heard it often growing up and I'm glad you brought it up here. I don't like it either.

LOG
01-06-2011, 10:35 AM
I have never heard this phrase used in a real conversation... *shrug*

backslashbaby
01-06-2011, 12:48 PM
I've heard it on the news a lot, and I did notice that it's a cruel thing to say. I also hate 'drink the Kool-aid'.

Another, imho, is 'beyond the pale'. I think I would have preferred the folks who lived beyond the pale, thankyouverymuch.

Huh, 2 out of 3 above nearly cover my complete ethnicity too :D

Gretad08
01-06-2011, 01:34 PM
I'm wearing my stupid hat today. Someone please explain the problem with 'drink the kool-aid'. I get off the reservation, but can't for the life of me find the offense in the former.

Gale Haut
01-06-2011, 01:57 PM
Because almost a thousand people had to die for that punchline to make any sense.

ETA: "Punchline" was not an intentional pun, fyi.

backslashbaby
01-06-2011, 02:00 PM
Yep, Jonestown. I didn't hear the term until much more recently, or didn't notice it as much before. Was it Rush Limbaugh who made it popular again? So many kids died. Ugh.

not_HarryS
01-06-2011, 02:24 PM
Because almost a thousand people had to die for that punchline to make any sense.

ETA: "Punchline" was not an intentional pun, fyi.

Yeah, but they willingly submitted themselves to death. I think the phrase is appropriate for someone who blindly jumps on a ridiculous bandwagon.

In fact, I don't find it any more offensive than I find 9/11 offensive. It's sad more than anything else.

Cyia
01-06-2011, 03:19 PM
Yeah, but they willingly submitted themselves to death. I think the phrase is appropriate for someone who blindly jumps on a ridiculous bandwagon.

"Willing's" a bit strong considering it was drink the kool aid or take a bullet to the brain once the real poison was involved. However, up to that point, it was a willing thing - a test of loyalty for people who probably, on some level knew better, but didn't know how to get out.

In that case, the phrase is unpleasant, but it's meant to be. Go through the PA threads and see how many times it's referenced, but in context of a group dynamic that's eerily cult-like. If you're talking about a cultish clique, then it's a valid comment.

kikazaru
01-06-2011, 05:10 PM
Another, imho, is 'beyond the pale'. I think I would have preferred the folks who lived beyond the pale, thankyouverymuch. :D

I think many people just don't think about the origins of the word before they use them, while "off the reservation" is clearly offensive, other words especially if they are in common usage are just not given any scrutiny. I used to use the word "gypped" and I was appalled to find out it was a slur against Gypsies. It simply didn't occur to me.

As for "beyond the pale" I had to look that one up, to find out that it's origins are 14th century. A pale is a stake and a series of them were used to separate and fence off part of Ireland which was under English rule, from the part which was not. To travel beyond the pale for the English, meant leaving civilization behind.
http://www.word-detective.com/back-q.html#pale

So thanks to you Backslashbaby, I found a great new site - and learned something - thanks!

Plot Device
01-06-2011, 06:27 PM
All of the below posts are incorrect as to the origins of the phrase "drink the kool-aid." And I used to be just as guilty of assuming it was Jonestown's tragedy that was the origin of this phrase.

Because almost a thousand people had to die for that punchline to make any sense.

ETA: "Punchline" was not an intentional pun, fyi.

Yep, Jonestown. I didn't hear the term until much more recently, or didn't notice it as much before. Was it Rush Limbaugh who made it popular again? So many kids died. Ugh.

Yeah, but they willingly submitted themselves to death. I think the phrase is appropriate for someone who blindly jumps on a ridiculous bandwagon.

In fact, I don't find it any more offensive than I find 9/11 offensive. It's sad more than anything else.


The true origins of the phrase "drink the koolaid" comes from the 1960's drug movement. It was also the origins of the phrase "acid test" where you LITERALLY had to drop a hit of acid into a cup of Kool-Aid and drink it.

Let me get the links to support my assertion. ("I'll be back." --can you tell me where THAT came from? ;) )




::ETA::

It's from the Tom Wolfe book The Electric Kool-Ade Acid Test published in 1968. If you were willing to drink their cup of LSD-laced Kool-Aid, then you passed the test and were accpeted into the group. It's aso where "the acid test" came from. (And I used to thnk "acid test" meant when a metals expert used some chemical stuff to determine if something was real gold or a fake.)

http://www.tomwolfe.com/KoolAid.html


However, I do concede that it has been morphed away from the original Tom Wolfe reference and become about Jonestown massacre. The utter fit of Jonestown makes it an easier reference and one that simply won't die. Added to that is the more far-reaching knowledge by most Americans of Jonestown over and above knowledge of the Tom Wolfe book. (Meanwhile, it wasn't Kool-Aid at Joestown, it was Flavor-Ade which is a differet bran dname manufactured by a different company. But even that point is irrelevent because --just as the brand name Band-Aid is universally used in America for almost ALL adhesive bandages, and the brand name Kleenex is universally used for almost ALL facial tissues, Kool-Aid is universally used for almost all powdered flavor drinks.)


.

icerose
01-06-2011, 06:34 PM
That's weird. I live only a few miles from a few reservations and I've never heard that term used in that way. I've heard people say "I'm off the reservation" or "Fresh off the reservation" but never the other. And they're referring to exactly that. They just came from the reservation to go to school/work and they're going through a cultural shock or that person is and they are still adjusting.

Don
01-06-2011, 06:49 PM
I always equated "off the reservation" with "thinking outside the box," or "going rogue," or more mildly, "on their own."

I can see where authoritarians would consider it an insult, though. Personally, I'd consider it a compliment.

And wouldn't escaping from either a concentration camp or a plantation also be considered a positive thing?

Shouldn't we be applauding people who have escaped from any form of oppression?

Plot Device
01-06-2011, 06:57 PM
Just yesterday I happened upon an old Marx Brothers comedy (don't know the title) where the brothers were on a Indian reservation. One of the pretty young native women was sitting down off to the side. Groucho went up to her, sat on her lap, and handed her a necklace saying "How would you like to be the recipient of this beautiful authentic necklace originally owned by the Czarina of Russia?" The native women turned her nose up and replied: "Me no like. Me want Cadillac Sedan." Then Groucho commented side-long to his brothers: "She's been off the reservation."

HistorySleuth
01-06-2011, 07:04 PM
That's the point Don. It would be a good thing, but it's used as just the opposite. (The other two terms I made up for comparision and don't exist.) Not to say that living ob the reservation is bad either, its how the phrase is meant that's bad. Not explaining myself well am I?

EmpoweredOKC
01-06-2011, 08:43 PM
I am Native, and the term "Off the Reservation" isn't really offensive to me or most of my friends, in its original context. It does, however, become offensive when it's used to connote being crazy, foolhardy, or wacky. But when it connotes being rebellious, non-conformist, independent, or brash, it's not offensive at all...remember, in our history, going "off the reservation" was an act of courage and bravado. The people most famous for doing this were Sitting Bull, Cochise, Manuelito, Crazy Horse, Joseph, Geronimo...

See the pattern? Going off the reservation is a show of strength. So it's not offensive when used that way.

HistorySleuth
01-07-2011, 03:02 AM
Used that way, your right. But news reporters, and even some posts here at AW use it the other way. In other words, they took a good thing and turned it into a catch phrase that means something totally negative.

Michael Wolfe
01-07-2011, 04:03 AM
It's from the Tom Wolfe book The Electric Kool-Ade Acid Test published in 1968.

.

Yes, although it sounds like there's an important difference. In the Tom Wolfe book, it sounds like it was meant literally, whereas the post-Jonestown usage is metaphorical. It seems possible that the metaphorical usage sprouted up independently, without any real connection with Tom Wolfe.

Celia Cyanide
01-07-2011, 04:20 AM
Yes, although it sounds like there's an important difference. In the Tom Wolfe book, it sounds like it was meant literally, whereas the post-Jonestown usage is metaphorical. It seems possible that the metaphorical usage sprouted up independently, without any real connection with Tom Wolfe.

It's possible, but it's just as likely that it was used metaphorically as a reference to The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.

Don
01-07-2011, 04:27 AM
The use of "off the reservation" as a derogatory term tells me more about the speaker than they probably want me to know. ;)

HistorySleuth
01-07-2011, 04:57 AM
See, now you'll notice it. Watch, it will pop up on the news or posted somewhere. And say, "Oh yeah, that does sound bad," when you hear how it's used. The weird part is the speaker doesn't realize how it makes them sound. To them it's a new catchy phrase to use.

donroc
01-07-2011, 05:10 AM
I believe I heard "acid test" used before the 60s as a metaphor for a test of proof -- in reference to litmus paper in a basic Chemistry class.

Xelebes
01-07-2011, 05:19 AM
I believe I heard "acid test" used before the 60s as a metaphor for a test of proof -- in reference to litmus paper in a basic Chemistry class.

Acid test has been around for centuries to test purity of metals. Litmus test has the same connotations though.

Michael Wolfe
01-07-2011, 05:45 AM
It's possible, but it's just as likely that it was used metaphorically as a reference to The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.


Do you mean that the metaphor was just influenced in some way by Wolfe's earlier usage? Because I'm not aware of any evidence that the metaphor itself was ever a reference to the book. Seems like it's always been a reference to Jonestown.

It does seem possible that the coiners of the metaphor were familiar with Wolfe and that Wolfe's influence trickled in. But I was theorizing that perhaps the coiners were only thinking about Jonestown (without being influenced by Tom Wolfe) and came up with "drinking the Kool-aid" because, as PD pointed out, so many people would use "Kool-aid" as a blanket term to refer to any powdered flavored drink.

not_HarryS
01-07-2011, 06:16 AM
All of the below posts are incorrect as to the origins of the phrase "drink the kool-aid." And I used to be just as guilty of assuming it was Jonestown's tragedy that was the origin of this phrase.








The true origins of the phrase "drink the koolaid" comes from the 1960's drug movement. It was also the origins of the phrase "acid test" where you LITERALLY had to drop a hit of acid into a cup of Kool-Aid and drink it.

Let me get the links to support my assertion. ("I'll be back." --can you tell me where THAT came from? ;) )




::ETA::

It's from the Tom Wolfe book The Electric Kool-Ade Acid Test published in 1968. If you were willing to drink their cup of LSD-laced Kool-Aid, then you passed the test and were accpeted into the group. It's aso where "the acid test" came from. (And I used to thnk "acid test" meant when a metals expert used some chemical stuff to determine if something was real gold or a fake.)

http://www.tomwolfe.com/KoolAid.html


However, I do concede that it has been morphed away from the original Tom Wolfe reference and become about Jonestown massacre. The utter fit of Jonestown makes it an easier reference and one that simply won't die. Added to that is the more far-reaching knowledge by most Americans of Jonestown over and above knowledge of the Tom Wolfe book. (Meanwhile, it wasn't Kool-Aid at Joestown, it was Flavor-Ade which is a differet bran dname manufactured by a different company. But even that point is irrelevent because --just as the brand name Band-Aid is universally used in America for almost ALL adhesive bandages, and the brand name Kleenex is universally used for almost ALL facial tissues, Kool-Aid is universally used for almost all powdered flavor drinks.)


.

Thanks for pointin' that out. S'mighty white of ya'.

...

And yes, unfortunately I've heard people say THAT one in this lifetime, too.

poetinahat
01-07-2011, 06:31 AM
S'mighty white of ya'.
I *think* that phrase comes from an Edward G. Robinson line in the film Little Caesar, but it could predate that, I suppose.

I always assumed that, in that context, "white" was meant in the sense of "white-hat" from cowboy films, as in, "you're one of the good guys", and was pretty universally misappropriated thereafter.

The line "Mighty Black of you" in Spike Lee's She's Gotta Have It wryly reaffirmed that [as I see it] misappropriation.

benbradley
01-07-2011, 06:47 AM
I may have heard "off the reservation" recently, but I haven't really noticed it. Google does show several uses in the news.

Yet another phrase I've heard complained about as being hurtful is "didn't take your medication this morning?" or "off his meds," as if the person is mentally ill but stable/normal with medication, which he hasn't taken lately.
Yep, Jonestown. I didn't hear the term until much more recently, or didn't notice it as much before. Was it Rush Limbaugh who made it popular again? So many kids died. Ugh.
I don't know about Rush using it (haven't listened to him much), but it does seem to be in common use politically, as in members of the opposing party "drank the Koolaid" and bought into the false beliefs of that opposing party.
"Willing's" a bit strong considering it was drink the kool aid or take a bullet to the brain once the real poison was involved. However, up to that point, it was a willing thing - a test of loyalty for people who probably, on some level knew better, but didn't know how to get out.

In that case, the phrase is unpleasant, but it's meant to be. Go through the PA threads and see how many times it's referenced, but in context of a group dynamic that's eerily cult-like. If you're talking about a cultish clique, then it's a valid comment.
That's the connotation I've usually seen it have - not that those at Jonestown literally drank it, but that they (and any members of "high demand" groups) accepted the beliefs of the group and adhere to it, regardless of whether any apocalyptic thing happens such as the Jonestown suicides/murders.

Even if the phrase was coined and used before the Jonestown incident, I have no doubt that incident had a strong influence on its current meaning.

AncientEagle
01-07-2011, 08:04 AM
"Off the reservation" has been around for quite a while. And maybe I just don't have enough sensitivity, or maybe it's because I spent a lot of years on military reservations and now live within a stone's throw of one, but it has never seemed in the least derogatory to me. And since I grew up amid plantations, and since I know that slavery was not limited to plantations, and even if it had been, it doesn't exist on today's plantations, then that example wouldn't do much for or to me either.

I don't intend to be disrespectful to or dismissive of any group, racial or otherwise, and if I did, Native Americans would be about the last group I'd insult, especially as I'm extremely proud of the Native American woman who was my great-great-grandmother. But I think we AW folks, being word people, are in some danger of dying of an overdose of extreme language jitters, exacerbated by the urge to loudly declare our personal abhorrence of some offending term and our disdain for anybody who ever used it or even thought it.

Consider the term "redneck." No doubt about it, that's intended to be derogatory. It's an insult, denoting someone of low social status, probably not very educated, of poor taste, probably racially prejudiced, and generally to be belittled. Yet, according to my understanding and belief, the term originally referred to the sunburned necks of the poor class of farmers who earned their living working the fields in the sun. Hey, those were my people. Those were, in fact, me. I wouldn't be here today, associating with this fine class of folks on AW, if it hadn't been for those rednecks, bending over their hoes as they sweated their way through endless, aching hours in cotton fields and corn fields and such.

But if you call somebody a redneck, I won't disown you, dislike you, or try to get you banned from this forum. I have far bigger problems to worry about than that.

Good grief!

HistorySleuth
01-07-2011, 09:48 AM
No, I'm not out to get any one banned either. I just find it fascinating when it comes to ethnic related negative terms, how come some are OK? Like I said I don't mean it in a word police way. But reporters, supposedly professional and unbiased (*hack* *hack*) why would a news person use any term like that?

AncientEagle
01-07-2011, 10:00 AM
Probably like meónever gave it a lot of thought and didn't consider it so awful. I can't say, of course. But that'd be my guess.