Ke-mo sah-bee (//; often spelled kemo sabe or kemosabe) is the term of endearment and catchphrase used by the intrepid and ever-faithful fictional Native American sidekick Tonto, in the very successful American radio and television program The Lone Ranger.
Fran Striker, writer of the original Lone Ranger radio program, spelled the word "ke-mo sah-bee." However, the spelling kemo sabe (or kemosabe) is by far the most common in popular culture, receiving approximately 180,000 hits on Google search in April 2011, as opposed to ke-mo sah-bee's 15,800. The word was entered into Webster's New Millennium Dictionary (edited by Barbara Ann Kipfer) in 2002 under the spelling "kemosabe."
Meaning and origin
There are many theories about the origin and meaning of this word. A common story is that it derives from a Spanish phrase such as "Quien sabe" or "quien no sabe," meaning "he who knows" or "he who does not know". This is implausible for several reasons. The origin of the phrase itself is well documented: Jim Jewell, director of The Lone Ranger from 1933 to 1939, took the phrase from Kamp Kee-Mo Sah-Bee, a boys' camp on Mullett Lake established by Charles W. Yeager (Jewell's father-in-law) in 1911; it is from Jewell that the definition "trusty scout" originates. Given that Kamp Kee-Mo Sah-Bee was in Cheboygan County, Michigan, this origin seems unlikely.
The two most accredited origins are as follows:
John Peabody Harrington's Ethnogeography of the Tewa Indians, published in 1916, defines the Tewa words kema and sabe as "friend" and "Apache", respectively; according to popular belief, a "Dr. Goddard" of the Smithsonian Institution made the Lone Ranger connection after reading a copy in the annual report of the Bureau of American Ethnology. However, given that the Tewa language is spoken by Puebloan peoples in New Mexico, this origin seems unlikely.
John D. Nichols' A Concise Dictionary of Minnesota Ojibwe defines the Ojibwe word giimoozaabi as "he peeks" (and, in theory, "he who peeks"), making use of the prefix giimoo(j)-, "secretly"; Rob Malouf, now an associate professor of linguistics at San Diego State University, suggested that "giimoozaabi" may have also meant scout (i.e., "one who sneaks").
- Striker, Jr., Fran. "What Does 'Kemo Sabe' Really Mean ?". Old Time Radio. Retrieved November 12, 2008.
- "Kemosabe". Webster's New Millennium Dictionary of English, Preview Edition. Lexico Publishing Group, LLC. Retrieved November 12, 2008.
- Adams, Cecil. "In the old Lone Ranger series, what did "kemosabe" mean?". The Straight Dope. Retrieved June 1, 2013.
- Adams, Cecil (July 18, 1997). "In the old Lone Ranger series, what did "kemosabe" mean?". The Straight Dope. Retrieved 2011-11-28.