Indian burn

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Indian burn

Post by Archived Topic » Thu Nov 04, 2004 6:17 pm

Why is twisting someone's skin called an "Indian burn?"
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Indian burn

Post by Archived Reply » Thu Nov 04, 2004 6:32 pm

Ah yes, the good old Indian burn – haven’t had one in years, but I remember them well. For the uninitiated an INDIAN BURN is a schoolyard torture in which a juvenile ‘friend’ grasps your forearm with both hands and twists the skin sharply in opposite directions producing a brief painful burning sensation and temporary redness. Cassell’s Dictionary of Slang tells us that the expression derives from the stereotyped ‘fiendish cruelties’ of the ‘Red’ Indians and he notes that in the U.K.[[also Canada, and Australia]] – obviously in a magnanimous effort to be an equal opportunity discriminator against our friends in Asia – the same device is called CHINESE BURN.

Cassell’s claims that the expressions goes back to the 1930s. However, the OEDs earliest citations date from the 1950s. I can attest to the fact that Indian burn goes back to at least the 1940s.
]<1956 “Come on grab him by the neck scrag him give him a CHINESE BURN beat him up and let him hav [sic] it.”—‘Whizz for Atomms’ by G. Willans, ii, page 32>

<1959 “Less dangerous, but equally painful, is a CHINESE BURN, also known as ‘Chinese torture’ and ‘Chinese twist’ (in the United States ‘Indian burn’ or ‘Indian torture’).”—‘Lore and Language of Schoolchildren’ by I. Opie & P. Opie, x. page 202>

<1997 “W suffered a spiral fracture . . . His assailant had admitted: ‘I went and gave him a CHINESE BURN and he moved, then I heard it click.’”—‘Daily Telegraph,’23 April, page 8/7>

<1997 “INDIAN BURNS are not our cultural heritage.”— ‘Simpsons: Complete Guide’ by M. Groening et al, page 188/4>

Ken G –April 17, 2004
Reply from Ken Greenwald (Fort Collins, CO - U.S.A.)
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