Es·​ki·​mo ˈe-skə-ˌmō How to pronounce Eskimo (audio)
plural Eskimo or Eskimos, often offensive, see usage paragraph below : a member of a group of indigenous peoples of southwestern and northern Alaska, Greenland, eastern Siberia, and especially in former use arctic Canada
: any of the languages (such as Yupik and Inuit) of the Eskimo peoples see also eskimo-aleut compare inuit, inupiat, yupik
Eskimoan adjective
Usage of Eskimo and Inuit

Eskimo is a word that presents challenges for anyone who is concerned about avoiding the use of offensive language. Its offensiveness stems partly from a now-discredited belief that it was originally a pejorative term meaning "eater of raw flesh," but perhaps more significantly from its being a word imposed on aboriginal peoples by outsiders. It has long been considered a word to be avoided in Canada, where native people refer to themselves as Inuit, a word that means "people" in their language. But not all the native people who are referred to as Eskimos are Inuit. Eskimo has no exact synonym; it has a general meaning that encompasses a number of indigenous peoples, and it continues for now in widespread use in many parts of the English-speaking world.

Word History


obsolete Esquimawe, probably from Spanish esquimao, from Montagnais (Algonquian language of eastern Canada) aiachkime8 Micmac, Eskimo; probably akin to modern Montagnais assime·w she laces a snowshoe, Ojibwa aškime·

First Known Use

1584, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of Eskimo was in 1584

Dictionary Entries Near Eskimo

Cite this Entry

“Eskimo.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 2 Dec. 2022.

Kids Definition



Es·​ki·​mo ˈes-kə-ˌmō How to pronounce Eskimo (audio)
plural Eskimo or Eskimos
sometimes offensive
: a member of a group of peoples of northern North America and eastern Siberia
: any of the languages of the Eskimo people

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