Ke-mo sah-bee (//; often spelled kemo sabe or kemosabe) is the term of endearment and catchphrase used by the fictional American Indian sidekick Tonto, in the American radio and television program The Lone Ranger (Actually, in the radio program, the Lone Ranger called Tonto "kemosabe". In the television program, it was vice versa).
Ultimately derived from gimoozaabi, an Ojibwe and Potawatomi word that may mean "he/she looks out in secret", it is sometimes translated as "trusty scout" or "faithful friend". Its use has become so widespread that it was entered into Webster's New Millennium Dictionary in 2002.
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 1,440,000 hits on Google search in June 2014, as opposed to ke-mo sah-bee's 29,700. 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 "¿Quién sabe?" or "quien no sabe," meaning "Who knows?" or "he who does not know". This is implausible because 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 in Michigan, established by Charles W. Yeager (Jewell's father-in-law) in 1916. Yeager himself probably took the term from Ernest Thompson Seton, one of the founders of the Boy Scouts of America, who had given the meaning "scout runner" to Kee-mo-sah'-bee in his 1912 book "The Book of Woodcraft and Indian Lore".
Kamp Kee-Mo Sah-Bee was in an area inhabited by the Ottawa, who spoke a dialect of Ojibwe. John D. Nichols and Earl Nyholm's 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 indeed have also meant scout (i.e., "one who sneaks").
There have been jokes about the name "kemo sabe". A Far Side cartoon had the then long-retired Lone Ranger discover that the name meant the rear end of a horse. One version of the Stonewall Jackson song "Waterloo" had the following verse: "The Lone Ranger and Tonto rode the trail / catching outlaws and putting them in jail/ But the Ranger shot old Tonto 'cause it seems / he found out what Kemo Sabe means/ (Waterloo refrain follows} The Lone Ranger he did trust / That old Tonto bit the dust."
Use in the television series
In the old Lone Ranger TV series, the Ranger's faithful Indian friend and partner Tonto, played by Native American Jay Silverheels for the entire run of the series, was asked in multiple scenes what "Kemosabe" meant. His reply was invariably, "It mean Trusty Scout!" The made-for-TV color movie Enter the Lone Ranger (1949) combined the plots of the first three episodes of the Lone Ranger TV series: "Enter the Lone Ranger", "The Lone Ranger Fights On", and "The Lone Ranger Triumphs" into a complete story related to the origins of the Lone Ranger and his fight for justice for all regardless of sex, race, or creed.
In both, Tonto finds the forever nameless younger brother of a famous Texas Ranger "Capt. Reid" barely alive. A medallion around the young man's neck helps Tonto identify him as the same boy who'd saved the Indian after a renegade attack wiped out his own family some years earlier. Tonto had declared the young man, played by Clayton Moore, worthy of brotherhood and, after a "traditional" blood-sharing ceremony gave him the Indian name "Kemosabe" or "Trusty Scout".
- In Larry Verne's 1960 novelty song "Mr. Custer," the term is referenced by the narrator as meaning "friend".
- Khemosabi was the name of a champion Arabian horse. His owners popularized his show career with a series of Lone Ranger themed cartoons.
- "Keem-o-sabe" is a 1969 song by The Electric Indian.
- Kimosabe is a 1999 album by Kim Mitchell.
- "Kimosabe" is the title of BT's song from the Japanese edition of his Emotional Technology album, also featured in video games Need for Speed: Underground and Amplitude.
- Kemosabe Records, American record label owned by Sony
- "Kemosabe" is a 2013 song by the British indie pop band Everything Everything.
- "Kemosabe" is a song by T.I., Doe B, Young Dro, Birdman, and B.o.B released from the G.D.O.D. (Get Dough Or Die) mixtape in 2013.
- Jay Silverheels biography: TONTO: The Man in Front of the Mask
- Rhodes, Richard (1993). Eastern Ojibwa=Chippewa-Ottawa Dictionary. New York: Mouton DeGruyter. p. Back cover. ISBN 3-11-013749-6.
- 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.
- "The Handbook of Private Schools". 1916.
- Seton, Ernest Thompson (1912). "The Book of Woodcraft and Indian Lore".
- Adams, Cecil (July 18, 1997). "In the old Lone Ranger series, what did "kemosabe" mean?". The Straight Dope. Retrieved 2011-11-28.