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Indio in Spanish is used to mean Indian, Indigene, and Hindu. Are all 3 meanings correct?

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"Indian" has multiple meanings in English, too... "Native American," "Indian" (one from India), or "Hindu" (broadly speaking--as most Hindus come from in or near India) –  Flimzy Dec 13 '13 at 9:53
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2 Answers

The word «indio» referes to someone of either the Eastern Indias or the Western Indias but is mostly currently referred for either an Indian national (someone from the Asian country called India or otherwise related to the Indian subcontinent) or someone ethnically related to the peoples who lived in the Americas before Columbus. I don't know of other parts of the Spanish-speaking world, but at least in Colombia «indio» is also pejorative for someone deemed to be less educated or from a lesser culture level (regardless of ethnical background).

The word «indígena» would roughly translate in English as native, aborigen or indigenous, so it could be applied to a Lapp (a Same) in Finland, a Australian aborigen, or to an indio in the Americas. It could also be extended to a white blonde German in Germany, although this meaning is rare. Correct but rare. In the Americas, many people say «indígena» instead of «indio» to avoid the other two meanings of «indio» (someone from India or the insult). As with any other ethnic related word, some people adopt it with pride and some people will feel offended.

The word «hindú» correctly applies to either someone from the Hindustani culture (Urdu/Hindi) or a follower of Hinduism. By extention, and to avoid the use of «indio» (to avoid confuntion to native Indians in the Americas or to avoid the pejorative meaning) it is also applied to the nationals of India. Most educated people will agree that «hindú» is incorrect when referring to just someone from India (unless related to Hindustani or Hinduism).

For avoiding confusion the word «hinduísta» will refer to a follower of Hinduism regardless of ethnic background or national affiliation.

Another related word is «amerindio» derived from «indio americano» wich refers to someone indigenous from the Americas, avoiding any confusion with «indio» and less incorrect than «indígena» when narrowing the meaning. Also, while some people bare proudly its name as «amerindio» other people takes it offensively.

So, in summary:


  1. A national from India or related to India
  2. Someone indigenous from the Americas
  3. [insult] someone with lesser culture level


  1. Indigenous, aborigen, native (belonging to an original peoples of a territory)
  2. narrowly: indigenous, aborige or native of the Americas.


  1. Someone related to the Hindustani (Urdu/Hindi) culture.
  2. Someone related to Hinduism
  3. by extension: a natural from India.
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Although the answer is perfectly correct it's important to asset that many people use the word "indio" on a familiar way to cover all previous meanings. –  Bardo Dec 17 '13 at 13:48
Not sure what all previous meanings are. I would find hard to find someone using «indio» to refer to a blond German in Germany or a white American converted to Hinduism. –  Carlos Eugenio Thompson Pinzón Dec 17 '13 at 19:59
Agree, however, on a familiar way you'll find more people using indio than hindú to refer to a natural from India, although hindú would be correct expression –  Bardo Dec 18 '13 at 7:20
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Although Indio is used as a polysemic word used to talk about Indian, Indigene and Hindu, in Spanish we have different word for those three meanings

  • Indian --> Indio
  • Indigene --> Indígena
  • Hindu --> Hindú

That way, when you want to talk about one of those three, if ou say ust Indio asure to be ery specific in your context, so everyone can understand you're talking about an Indian 'Indio', Indigene 'Indio' or Hindu 'Indio'.

Using Indio for Indigene, sounds to me like some king of insult, and it is used sometimes in a pejorative way, always speaking about someone southamerican.

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Not complete: spanish "Indio" can mean both from America and from India. "Hindú" is a racial/religious reference where not all indians from India are included. Some may even take offense if you call them "Hindú". –  Envite Dec 13 '13 at 10:25
Well, I often refer to those that follow hinduism as hinduists, that's how I difference them, not trying to be offensive, so probably is my way to understand it that makes me say that 'Hindú' is for 'Hindu', for me 'Hindú' is someone born or a citizen of India, and hinduist is someone that follows hinduism as a religion. –  Amedio Dec 13 '13 at 11:04
Yes, but it is not only how you refer to them, but how them can feel when one refers to them. –  Envite Dec 13 '13 at 11:15
Well I searched mroe about 'Hindú' in RAE, and the definition doesn't get peorative meaning, it refers to citizens and religious both. So maybe I was not so wrong, and you are the frist to tell me that, maybe I'll e-mail them for a clarification. –  Amedio Dec 13 '13 at 11:46
Estando en una conversación con un colega, apareció el tema del significado delos términos Indio, Indígena e Hindú. Yo sabía que Indio puede ser usada de forma peyorativa, pero el insiste en que Hindú también es malsonante a oídos de un habitante de la India, ya que, según el, Hindú se refiere solamente a un grupo racial y religioso de ciudadanos de la India. En el diccionario no se trata Hindú con un uso peyorativo, o exclusivamente racial o religioso, sino que también se indica que sirve para denominar a un ciudadano procedente de la India. ¿Nos podríais sacar de dudas? Muchas gracias –  Amedio Dec 13 '13 at 11:57
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