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Son of Vespucciland On:2008-10-16 04:57:08

Columbus , of course, didn't discover America: he didn't intend to discover America, didn't think he had discovered America, and most decidedly wasn't even the first European to reach America. So, naturally, this Monday we celebrated (or at least observed) Columbus Day---presumably to help him get over the awful misery of his triple disappointment.

Not only that, but it has been revealed that, as is usual with almost anything that is widely accepted as an historical fact, the widely accepted derivation of the name "America" is utterly, utterly wrong. A few years ago a very sensible (by which I of course mean English) chap called Rodney Broome proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that all that rubbish about Amerigo Vespucci and the naming of America is way off--and I for one greet the news with glee: I mean as an English gentleman of a certain age I like formality, but I've never been particularly happy, nor for that matter even particularly understandable, when I refer to the States formaly by his last name as "Vespucciland"; but the alternative, of calling them by Vespucci's first name, when I've never so much as seen the man, let alone been introduced to him, seems much too familiar. I mean, to me, saying "America," (which doesn't even get his first name right) sounds like I'm being rude, and trying to get it right by saying "AmeriGa" sounds like I'm being rude and have a bad cold.

Given these awful alternatives I am so happy to learn that the name "America" was actually applied to this continent (probably well before Columbus didn't discover it) by merchants from the city of Bristol in the west of England (who, it should be noted, were looking for cod fish to turn into money, rather than continents to turn into discoveries) as a compliment a fellow merchant of Welsh extraction. And I'm absolutely delighted to hear that with absolute propriety they used his surname! Yes, you can forget all that first-name-basis-bloody-casual-pretending-to-be-"jest-friendly-'Mercans" stuff, and pull your socks up, and learn to be a bit more formal from now on, because America was not established as a continent on a first name basis, but instead was named for the Anglo-Cymric Richard Amerike using his last name. And (the gilt on the gingerbread as far as I'm concerned), even though the continent didn't use it, he did have a decent first name!
Further, since it seems that Amerike directly financed John Cabot's voyage of discovery, the name 'America' it turns out celebrates and commemorates one of it's first financial backers rather than just some twit who merely scribbled something on a map. Now that (considering the traditionally business-friendly atmosphere over here) is what I call appropriate---bloody appropriate!

Oh! and before you start getting all PC at me, tut-tuting about my use of the word 'discovery' in respect to America and what the Europeans did to it, let me reassure you that 'discovery' is exactly what happened; because discovery is essentially a modern European activity. Peoples have been wandering all over the world being the first to do something, or go somewhere, as long as there have been people, however it is a purely European weirdness (and the only thing that really makes it a discovery) to then go around claiming that you did it first, and that your dad can beat up the other guy's dad. Note, for example, that the most important act in the claim that Columbus discovered America was the printing and wide dissemination1 throughout Europe of a letter (to Luis de Sant Angel, one of his financial backers) claiming that he'd done it, and that his dad could beat up anyone else's dad. And poor Richard Amerike missed out because those Bristol merchants (who really didn't want anyone else finding their cod fish nor, for that matter, their money) didn't print and widely disseminate anything claiming that they had ever done anything, nor that their dads could beat up anyone else's dads.

Cheerio for now from
Richard Howland-Bolton


1So important is this that I strongly suspect that discovery hardly happened before the arrival of printing with movable type. For example America was sort of already 'discovered' by the Greenlanders around 1000AD, as reported in the Landnámabók of Ari Frode, but it didn't make much difference.

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