Columbus Day Word Origins

On October 12, 1492, Christopher Columbus landed on San Salvador in the Bahamas, sure that he had reached the East Indies. King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain sponsored his trip west to search for a faster trade route to the Orient. Up until the end of his life (1506), Columbus believed that he had found that route. The anniversary of his landing was formally celebrated for the first time by the Society of St. Tammany, also known as the Columbian Order, in New York City on October 12, 1792. Columbus Day is celebrated on the second Monday in October (since 1971) and it is a tribute to the revelation of a New World. Columbus himself, a native of Genoa, Italy, is a hero of Italian-Americans. On the 400th anniversary of his landing, a presidential proclamation made it a national holiday. The landing of Columbus also came to be commemorated as a holiday in Italy, and in most of the Spanish-speaking countries of the Americas it is celebrated with fiestas as Día de la Raza (Day of the Race) — because many of the Spanish settlers who followed Columbus married native peoples and created a new "race."

America is named for navigator Amerigo Vespucci who followed after Columbus and extended his discoveries. Vespucci (1451-1512) was Italian explorer who navigated the coast of South America in 1501.

The word discover goes back to Latin dis- and cooperire, meaning "to remove the covering; completely uncover." By 1553, it was used to mean "seeing or gaining knowledge of something previously unknown" and "finding out; bringing to light."

Navigation first described the action of traveling on water and is traceable to Latin navigare, "to sail." Navigate originally meant "to go from one place to another in a ship" from navis, "ship" and igare/agere, "drive, lead."

Voyage first described a "journey by sea or land," from Latin viaticum, "provisions for a journey." The phrase boon voyage ("prosperous journey") was altered to bon voyage late in the 17th century.

There has been much debate about both the accomplishments and the destruction caused by Columbus's voyages. The view of Columbus as a hero has been countered by the study of the impact of the slave trade and the ravages of disease brought by the visitors upon the indigenous peoples of the Caribbean region and the Americas. Columbus himself was not greatly revered by his companions or the natives he encountered. Still, Columbus is regarded as a hero for accomplishing the four voyages, for bringing great material profit to Spain and other European countries, and for opening up the Americas to European settlement.

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