INDIAN, an adjective originally derived from India, and properly applied to the peoples and products of that country, but later, through a geographical and historical blunder, transferred to the peoples of the New World, especially of North America and the West Indian Islands but also in a lesser degree to the inhabitants of Central and South America. The beginning of this confusion between widely different races, separated by half the world, marks a turning point in history. The Turkish conquests of the middle of the fifteenth century had blocked the earlier route to India across the Isthmus of Suez, depriving Europe of the rich and lucrative Eastern trade. Christopher Columbus, among others, came to the conclusion that India might be reached by another route, by sailing westward instead of eastward. He knew that the world was round, but he underestimated its size, and at the same time overestimated the eastward extension of Asia. Therefore, when he began his memorable voyage on August 3, his purpose was to sail to India; and when, two months and nine days later, he sighted land, he was convinced that he had reached India, or an island off the coast of India. As a natural consequence, he thought and spoke of the natives as Indians, and the misnomer has ever since attached itself to the races of the New World, excepting the Eskimo. Many attempts to repair the original error have been made, as in American Indian, abbreviated Amerindian, but the confusion still persists ; thus Shakespeare's "Indian beauty" refers to Asia, his "dead Indian" to America. Indian corn refers to the New World, Indian ink to the Old. For North American Indians see NORTH AMERICA, Ethnology.
The word Indian, meaning an attribute of India, is derived from the Sanskrit, sindhu, a river, and, in particular, the great river Indus. The European forms of the word are derived from the Persian Hendu and Hind.