Go Tribe!

The Cleveland Indians and Chicago Cubs face off in Game 6 of the World Series tonight. As I grew up in Ohio, and as my family hails from Cleveland, I’m rooting for the Indians to bring in their first championship since 1948. Speaking of tribe (and putting aside the team’s racially controversial mascot), where does the word tribe come from?


The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) first attests tribe in 1327, specifically referring to the 12 tribes of Israel. This tribe, passing into English from French, is from Latin’s tribus, “tribe,” based on Greek’s use of ϕῡλή (phyle) for the biblical tribes descended from Jacob. The Greek phyle, itself meaning “tribe” or “clan,” survives in phylum and phylogenetic, which we may recall from biology class. A tribe was more generally referring to a “race” or national “division” of people by the 1600s, and any sort of “group” by the 1700s.

Now, the earliest use of Latin’s tribus, best we know, named the three, early peoples of Rome, which some scholars consider to be the Latin, Sabine, and Etruscan tribes. The deeper roots of the word are unclear. Many etymologists have suggested tribus joins tri-, from the Latin for “three,” and the ancient root for “to be,” *bheue-. This Indo-European base also yields English’s be and could convey a sense of “growing,” “becoming,” or “appearing,” which might help explain its application to one of those three, founding Roman families. Derivative terms include tribune and tribunal, which we can trace back to tribunus, literally the “head of a tribe” but politically a representative of the plebeian interests in Roman government.

Whoever wins this year, both Cleveland and Chicago fans are no doubt ecstatic that their tribe has – at long last – had representation in baseball’s highest game.

m ∫ r ∫


3 thoughts on “Go Tribe!

  1. Humans are one race or “race” on this planet. Paying heed to a baseball team’s “racially controversial mascot” seems unscientific and unethical in 2016. Can we link the North American tribes to the tribes of the Hebrew via the tribe of Dan in Ireland and Greeks who were exploring the St. Lawrence river?

    Were early Chinese explorers in Cape Breton and California? One race.

    The Etruscan civilization was not a comparable “tribe” alongside Latin and Sabine (Italic) people. Consider Wiki “No etymology exists for Rasna, the Etruscans’ name for themselves, although Italian historic linguist Massimo Pittau has proposed the meaning of ‘Shaved’ or ‘Beardless’, backing the opinion of ancient figurines collector and author Paolo Campidori.[38]”

    “The term is sometimes used improperly, especially in nonspecialised literature, to refer to all pre-Roman people of Italy, including those not of Indo-European lineages, such as the Etruscans, the Raetians and the Elymians.” {It was suggested in the 19th Century that “Raeti” is an exonym given to these tribes by the Gauls, derived from a supposed Celtic root rait (“highland”), so that Raeti meant “mountain people”.[2]}

    Most of us don’t give a toss about baseball. Less than 0.1% of the one race are interested in baseball.

    “A French manuscript from 1344 contains an illustration of clerics playing a game, possibly la soule, with similarities to baseball.[1] Other old French games such as thèque, la balle au bâton, and la balle empoisonnée also appear to be related.[2] Consensus once held that today’s baseball is a North American development from the older game rounders, popular in Great Britain and Ireland.”


  2. I certainly hope that your tribe wins, that they are without a doubt, the victorious winners of the coveted World Series… In a little over a week we start preparing to sing hail to a new chief. That could possibly be the beginning of nasty, tribal warfare amongst the grand old tribe members.
    My ancestors were said to be originally from Saxony, but now there is some doubt. There were several other tribes in that area in the early 1600’s, I’m not sure what my tribe is at this point.


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