'white European' still 'Caucasian'?

In different sources (mostly films) I come across using the word ‘Caucasian’ for ‘white/European’ people. Technically this term is no longer in use for that purpose. Still it exists in speaking and confuses sometimes: who is mentioned - some European with a set of peculiar traits OR a Caucasian region dweller?
Thank you.

In the United States, “Caucasian” is used as a polite way to refer to a “white” person from anywhere in the world, i.e., a member of the Caucasoid race. It is also used in writing. The term usually includes people of European and Middle Eastern origin.

The problem is that the definition keeps changing. Technically, according to the original use of the term, people from India were also called “Caucasian” and so were many Latinos. Now, for government purposes, East Indians can be classified as “Asian” if they want to be, even though that category was meant for people of what used to be called the “Mongoloid race”. Anthropologists decided decades ago that most Latin Americans are of a separate race from Caucasians, and they called it the “Mestizo” race. So fewer and fewer people classify themselves as Caucasian now, especially because being a member of one of the other races can bring a person a lot of goodies in the US, including jobs, scholarships, preferred acceptance to universities, etc.

So when you hear someone in an American film or TV show, or in some book or document, referred to as “Caucasian”, it basically means “white person”. To know any more, you have to know who that person thinks is a white person. Some people think of white people as those of European origin. Others think of whites as being of European and Middle Eastern origin. Others, like me, think the category includes people of European, Middle Eastern, East Indian origin, plus Latinos who look more or less European. For some people it’s about skin color, and for others (like me) it may be about other physical features.

I much appreciate your reply.
The only matter of confusion for those who learn English in my country (Ukraine), and in some of our neighbourhood, is that ‘Caucasian’ unambiguously means ‘a Caucasian (mountain) dweller’ who does not naturally possesses those traits of ‘white people’ as this term describes. Sometimes translations or interpretations sound ridiculous.
Nevertheless, if there are still no peculiar characteristics to distinguish geographic race then everything has just to comply with the simple and global rule: white, yellow, red…(no nations, no tradions, no languages - just a few unpretentious colours). Suppose ‘big terms’ should be left for history and science, they are too much for ordinary changeable life. Why not then call everyone ‘African’? Following scientific researches and descoveries we all are descendants of Great Cradle :slight_smile:
As to linguistics, I think, it can sometimes be hard to find the right semantic definition of ‘a global word’. Who are they those ‘Caucasians’? Where are they from? What do they do? How do they laugh? etc :slight_smile:
Thank you very much for your explanations and don’t mind a lot my philisophic comments :slight_smile:

Abeille, the one philosophical comment you forgot to make is that English speakers don’t determine their vocabulary or usage based on the Ukrainian language. If “Caucasian” means a white person in English, the Ukrainians have nothing to say about it. I would probably win if I bet that Ukrainian contains some English words that are not used with their correct English meanings, and the Ukrainians don’t care.

I don’t know Ukrainian, but I can give you an example from Russian: The Russians use the word “парикмахер” to mean “barber”. The problem is that it is a German word that doesn’t mean barber. It means “wig maker”. A German could scream at the Russian nation all his life that this word doesn’t mean “barber”, but it won’t do any good, because in Russian that’s exactly what it means now, and Russians don’t choose their words based on what Germans think is correct.

In my classes I see Russians complain about English speakers using the word “babushka” to mean a triangular head scarf. They go off on a harangue about how “бабушка” really means a grandmother and not a head scarf, but it doesn’t matter, because in English “babushka” means a head scarf, and we don’t care what it means in Russian.

As for races, your colors don’t suffice to describe them. White people are not white; they’re usually pink or tan. Comparatively few black people are black, but are actually brown, and some of them are the same color as some white people. East Asians are not yellow, but tan. “Red” people are the same color as some of the people you describe as yellow.

You probably also don’t like people who were born in the US or Canada, speak no Ukrainian and know almost nothing about Ukraine calling themselves “Ukrainian”, but it doesn’t matter, because in North America the word “Ukrainian” describes either a person from Ukraine or a person whose ancestors came from Ukraine, even if he has no connection to or knowledge of Ukraine.

Jamie, I thought that “babushka” was the Russian version of “baby” or “sweetheart”… Russian slang.

Aren’t whites referred to as Caucasian due to some long-ago tribe originating in the Caucuses (sp?)… thought to be the first “white” people?

Ya dipah loobloo. My parents housed an exchange student from Volgograd in the '90s, so I got some lessons. Strasvootya!

Okay, it’s story time:

It was the winter of 1995 or so – winter break for those home from college.

So my high school buddies and I met to play some broomball on the frozen lake (mercury freezes in northern Wisconsin in January, so the lakes go in early December usually) beside which one of those pals lived – on break, with his parents, in their home.

(damn it, there must have been an easier way to say that!)

Anyhow, we’re running around on ice, using our brooms to prod the frozen plastic ball into the opposing team’s “net”.

So the ball breaks loose from the swarm of taped synthetic straw and I think, “that ball is MINE!”… so I break out into a sprint, the type I would attempt on sure footing. Only this is NOT sure footing; this is ice.

So I slip, falling forward onto my face… chin, to be exact. A front tooth chips the ice, and as I get up (blushing), said tooth is my main concern.

The tooth is fine.

But why does my chin itch and burn just a little bit? So I put my hand up to the bottom of my chin and the fingers come back red.


So I grab some snow and hold it to my chin for a couple seconds. The snow comes up splotched in red.

So I go up to our genius Pre-Med friend Justin and ask him if it needs stitches.

He says, “You might wanna get that looked at, Tom.”

Being a young, (wannabe) tough buck, I soldier on for another half hour or so, thinking the whole time about my chin. After the fifth blood-splattered snowball returns from my chin I realize that the better part of valor would be to get to a hospital.

SO I drive the seven miles from Hazelhurst to Minocqua to be met by my parents and their Russian exchange student – Anna (onya) – in the living room.

You have to understand, by this time blood covered the backs of my hands and parts of my fingers, parts of my jacket and the collar of the white t- shirt underneath… and about a third of my face. (of course I spread some of it on my cheeks because it looks cool/tough).

So they all utter/gasp “Tom!” as I enter.

Mom is freaking out.

Dad is pissed, cuz he’ll be driving me to the hospital 15 minutes away in this foul weather… and after the initial shock he sees that it’s superficial, so he can dispense with the real concern and become righteously indignant (hehe).

But Anna takes on a sheen. I’ll never forget it… she just stared at me, like the lust in her belly was fed foremost by the sight of a bloody face… it was neat. I wonder if that’s how babes of yore looked upon knights returning from battle.

She made me feel tough as nails and rather randy for a second.

She was 17 then but when Spring Break rolled around…

hehe j/k (about the last innuendo)

Tom, women from Slavic countries are extremely skilled at making men feel like that. They make us feel like big, big men when they want to. I don’t understand the technique, so I just say they turn on the smell men can’t resist. (However, they can turn it off as quickly as they turn it on.)

Tom, what does any of that have to do with the subject of this thread? A bit of a festive night last night? :wink:

Yeah, it was, but not so festive that I’m paying for it today.

I included the story because the Russian banter reminded me of the exchange student… which always reminds me of the broomball incident. And I got a bit sentimental. And when I’m feeling sentimental, and I’ve got a buzz, I tend to share. hehe

[color=brown]To Jamie (K):
Thanks for spotting my [color=red]‘philosophic’ mistake, I felt something’s wrong about that but was too lazy to consult any source (by the way we often do those historic/historical etc mistakes).
Well, the explanations you presented me above are quite known and clear. I just wanted to point out the ambiguous meaning of the word for those whose English is not L1 and who has to choose the right definition.
And as I am from another part of the world let me just clear up that funny thing about ‘Caucasian’ here (mean in Ukraine, Russia). In our notion the person called like that looks definitely a kind of some Caucasian (mean mountain region) ‘dzhygeet’ - a skilful horseman, wearing special clothes, having a dagger, wildly and merrily dancing ‘lezghinka’ (a Caucasian Georgian dance), and nothing to do with all that Blumenbach’s stuff :slight_smile:
I understand the difference accurately but couldn’t resist the temptation to present another point of view, not that one and only restricted meaning of ‘white’. Thanks for any comments.

What made you think so, I wonder?! I’m inclined to consider myself one of the friendliest persons on earth :slight_smile: The matter of the post is dealt only with the language nuances and that’s all.

[color=darkred]To Prezbucky:
Was pleased to read your post.
Such a poetic mood! What a narration!
Some new words, phrases, the way they’re expressed…
I’m a passionate English lover and authentic flow of words makes me shiver of delight.
Thank you for that pleasure.

[color=darkblue]To both:
Guys, if you like to chew the fat about the mysteries of the enigmatic Slavic soul, carry on! Just choose another topic for your posts and let me know where to find them, ok? I’d follow them with excitement! :slight_smile:

I didn’t say you probably don’t like people born in the US or Canada. I said this:

Ok, let everyone be more broad-minded and less suspicious and biased.


I’m glad that you enjoyed my post. But my sauce-fed best is rendered cheap and shallow compared to my favorite poet, Robert Frost. That guy really, really possessed the fullest possible measure of phrasal mastery. Enjoy! (check these for mistakes – I can’t copy and paste whilst posting with my iPhone, so this is from memory)

“The Road Not Taken”

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood
And sorry i could not travel both,
But be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth.

Then took the other, as just as fair
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear.
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same.

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads onto way
I doubted if I should ever go back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –
I took the one less traveled by
And that has made all the difference.

“Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening”

Whose woods these are I think I know
His house is in the village though
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farm house near
Between the woods and frozen lake,
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep
But I have promises to keep
And miles to go before I sleep
And miles to go before I sleep.

“Nothing Gold Can Stay”

Nature’s first green is gold
Her hardest hue to hold
The early leaf’s a flower
But only so an hour
Then leaf subsides to leaf
So Eden sank to grief
So dawn goes down to day,
Nothing gold can stay.

“Fire And Ice”

Some say the world will end in fire;
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire,
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it were to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction, ice
Is also great
And would suffice.

If you want to read more of Frost’s stuff, I also recommend these poems, among others:

Mending Wall
The Axe Helve
After Apple-Picking
Tree At My Window
Fragmentary Blue
Desert Places

And these aren’t by Frost but they’re also pretty good:

William Wordsworth: “I Wandered Lonely As A Cloud”
John Keats: “To My Brothers” and “When I Have Fears That I May Cease To Be”
John Donne: “The Bait”
Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Give All To Love”

Thanks for those nice pieces, a balm for a soul. I cast my eye over the poems and found them very nice. Frost is simple but strong - with the deep feeling inside. I’ve read the Keats’ one (When I Have Fears) more thoroughly, I liked it. I looked for the rest and now need some time for interpretation. Thanks again.

The poems are beautiful, indeed. The question is: How are they relevant to the topic of this tread, namely “Caucasian’ for ‘white/European’ people”?

They followed the conversation’s path.

And Robert Frost was white. hehe

“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood
And sorry i could not travel both” :slight_smile:

“Then took the other, as just as fair
And having perhaps the better claim” :slight_smile:

And I heard it as ‘words’ instead of ‘woods’ :frowning:

“The words are lovely, dark and deep
But I have promises to keep
And miles to go before I sleep
And miles to go before I sleep.”

nah, it’s “woods”

Many Caucasians either grow up in the woods or have ancestors who did, whether those woods be coniferous, deciduous or mixed.

The use of “path” in “conversation’s path” was unintentional… but seems serendipitous now. Thanks for pointing it out!

Hello, everyone!

OK, ‘Caucasians’ are left back now, as I clearly see :slight_smile:
Instead something nostalgic and romantic began to spread in the air. I was caught for a good while by the fine lines of the poems above and inspired by the Emerson’s ‘Self-Reliance’ felt an instant rush to jot some bits down. Please, don’t judge severely. :oops:

[color=orange]Try your pen
You’re all unique
Let’s have a bit of poetic picnic

[color=blue][b]Weightless flakes are falling
Touching not the ground
Making furious rolling
Dancing all around
They are melting halfway
Turning into droplets
Forming babbling brooklets
Leaving me astound

How long’s it been snowing?
How far am I going?
Do I need just to stop and breathe?..[/b]

[color=violet]Weather seeds become weeds
Weather something better
Later it will matter
(almost a tongue-twister)

But this is another story… and for another topic…

Oh, one more thing! Wanted to compliment Prezbucky on the sparkling humour, quick wit, and vivid English!

Jamie, I have to disagree with you on the being a member of one of the other races can you benefit from preferred acceptance to universities. If you have a chance to study the acceptance rate at the country’s most selective schools for each race, you would see that Asians generally have a lower acceptance rate than whites do. There have been a lot of studies on this. One senior thesis by a Harvard student showed that being Asian is like having a 100 point deduction on your SAT score. I would say that being a minority does not grant you preferred acceptance to selective universities, being “the right minority” does.

Although much water has flowed under the bridge since then, the topic didn’t stop to disturb imagination occasionally and a few days ago my friend shared a link with me about this naughty word ‘Caucasian’ from ‘‘Common Errors in English Usage’’ by Paul Brians. The explanation didn’t run counter to my perception and I felt kind of relief, fair to say.