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The adjective caucasian is formed from Caucasus, the name of the geographical area between the Black Sea and the Azov Sea (to the west) and the Caspian Sea (to the east). It has two principal meanings, the second of which AWE advises you not to use in British academic writing.

  • The older, more traditional and unexceptionable meaning is "[o]f or belonging to the region of the Caucasus" (OED, 1889). Substantively, it means "A native or inhabitant of the Caucasus" (ibid.).
The Caucasian family of languages falls into three groups: the Kartvelian, including Georgian; the Abkhazo-Adygian, including Circassian, or Kabardian; and the Dagestanian, including Chechen and Ingush.
  • In the nineteenth century, as a part of the developing study of homo sapiens, early students investigating the category of 'race' assumed that Mount Ararat (a name imposed by western Europeans on the mountain called Masis in the Caucasus) was the resting place of Noah's Ark, and therefore the cradle of humanity after the flood. In this myth, Noah's three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth must logically be the founding fathers of the post-diluvian human race. Armenians, for example, trace their origin to Hayk, a descendant of Japheth. More specifically, Johann Friedrich Blumenbach (1752–1840), an influential early theorist of race, held that there were five human races: the Caucasian (Caucasoid) or white race; the Mongolian (Mongoloid) or yellow race, including all East Asians and some Central Asians; the Malayan (Australoid) or brown race, including Southeast Asian and Pacific Islanders; the Ethiopian (Negroid) or black race, including sub-Saharan Africans; and the American or red race, including American 'Indians'. Blumenbach believed that the people of the Caucasus were the most beautiful of the world, perhaps reflecting his acceptance of the Old Testament, and was the first to use caucasian for people of European, Middle Eastern, and North African origin. It is now widely used in the United States as a synonym, or euphemism, for 'white', in forensic descriptions of individuals. This usage fossilizes an erroneous and outdated form of thinking.
Do not use caucasian to mean 'white. It is lazy and inaccurate.