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Caucasian

[kaw-key-zhuh n, -shuh n, -kazh-uh n, -kash-] /kɔˈkeɪ ʒən, -ʃən, -ˈkæʒ ən, -ˈkæʃ-/
adjective, Also, Caucasic
[kaw-kas-ik, -kaz-] /kɔˈkæs ɪk, -ˈkæz-/ (Show IPA)
1.
Anthropology. of, pertaining to, or characteristic of one of the traditional racial divisions of humankind, marked by fair to dark skin, straight to tightly curled hair, and light to very dark eyes, and originally inhabiting Europe, parts of North Africa, western Asia, and India: no longer in technical use.
2.
of or pertaining to the Caucasus mountain range.
3.
of or related to the non-Indo-European, non-Turkic languages of the Caucasus region.
noun
4.
Anthropology. a member of the peoples traditionally classified as the Caucasian race, especially those peoples having light to fair skin: no longer in technical use.
5.
a native of Caucasia.
Origin
1800-1810
1800-10; < Latin Caucasi(us) (< Greek Kaukásios, equivalent to Kaúkas(os) Caucasus + -ios adj. suffix) + -an
Related forms
non-Caucasian, adjective, noun
Word story
Coined by German anthropologist Johann Friedrich Blumenbach at the turn of the 19th century, the racial classification Caucasian has sparked plenty of debate in its short time in the English language. First there’s the issue of Blumenbach’s mistaken etymology: he erroneously placed the origins of the “White” race in the Caucasus mountain region. He also, not at all humbly, knocked his predecessor, Carl Linnaeus’ singular method of studying teeth to determine race, calling it “artificial” and asserting that it “came every day to be encumbered with more troublesome anomalies.” Blumenbach, on the other hand, emphasized the importance of studying the entire skull to understand the quandary that is race.
When anthropologists first started studying race, white supremacy was popularly accepted. Blumenbach was, at least, a bit more progressive than his contemporaries, in that he believe that all men belonged to the same species, even if he considered the Caucasian race—his own race—to be the original type and the “most handsome and becoming” of all five races (Caucasian, Mongolian, Ethiopian, Malayan, and American) in his now-outdated classification.
The language of race is undeniably a sensitive issue. Words that were once perfectly acceptable become dated and offensive. In his book The Rise and Fall of the Caucasian Race, Bruce David Baum notes: “[T]he notion of a Caucasian race has gone in and out of vogue…in popular usage since it was invented in the late eighteenth century.” In a 2008 speech Hillary Clinton used the term “Caucasian,” however, the writers of the 2010 U.S. Census form opted to use the term “White” over “Caucasian” in the question about race. For most Americans, the terms are interchangeable. With that in mind, it’s probably best to choose your words carefully when in the presence of anthropologists.
Related Quotations
“[T]he status of Caucasian…as a scientifically credible racial category…is arguably no better than that of an Aryan race.“
—Bruce David Baum, The rise and fall of the Caucasian race: a political history of racial identity (2006)
“Eighteen million of you, from all walks of life—women and men, young and old, Latino and Asian, African-American and Caucasian, rich, poor, and middle-class, gay and straight, you have stood with me.“
—Hillary Clinton, in a speech announcing suspension of presidential campaign and Obama support, American Rhetoric (delivered June 7, 2008)
“The Caucasian mountains have not as yet attracted the attention of geologists in a degree corresponding to their real importance in the history of the formation of the earth's crust.“
—V. Dingelstedt, “The Igneous Rocks of the Caucasus“ Scottish Geographical Magazine, Volume 12 (1896)
Dictionary.com Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2014.
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British Dictionary definitions for Caucasian

Caucasian

/kɔːˈkeɪzɪən; -ʒən/
adjective
1.
(old-fashioned) another word for Caucasoid
2.
of or relating to the Caucasus
noun
3.
a White person; a Caucasoid
4.
a native or inhabitant of Caucasia
5.
any of three possibly related families of languages spoken in the Caucasus: North-West Caucasian, including Circassian and Abkhaz, North-East Caucasian, including Avar, and South Caucasian including Georgian
Usage note
The word Caucasian is very widely used in the US to refer to people of European origin or people who are White, even though the original classification was broader than this
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for Caucasian
adj.

1807, from Caucasus Mountains, between the Black and Caspian seas; applied to the "white" race 1795 (in German) by German anthropologist Johann Blumenbach, because its supposed ancestral homeland lay there; since abandoned as a historical/anthropological term. (See Aryan).

n.

"resident or native of the Caucasus," 1843; see Caucasus + -ian. Meaning "one of the 'white' race" is from 1958 (earlier Caucasoid, 1956).

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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