Monday, January 18, 2016

Hale Colombia

A newspaper advertisement by a prestigious foundation touted its grants to successful immigrants, including one who had excelled at Columbia University.  So far, so good.  Unfortunately, the next item in the ad sang the praises of another grant recipient, who had immigrated to the U. S. from Columbia—Bogotá, to be precise. Not so good.

Norteamericanos often have trouble distinguishing Columbia from Colombia, and I’m here to help. Both names derive from the name of Christopher Columbus, who happened upon the Western Hemisphere in 1492, a date that will live in infamy. 

Columbia, with a “u,” as in the University, the Broadcasting System, the River, the gem of the ocean, the shade of blue, and the Pictures company, is a poetic appellation for the United States of America, which first appeared in England in 1738. The U.S. of A. might well have been named the U.S. of C., if it hadn’t been for another Italian explorer, Amerigo Vespucci, who visited South America on behalf of the Portuguese around 1500. A German mapmaker named Martin Waldseemüller, having read Vespucci’s journals, named the continent “America” (a Latinized version of Vespucci’s first name) on a map he published in 1507.

The nation of Colombia, where the coffee, the cut flowers, and the cocaine come from, was also named in honor of Christopher Columbus, in the Spanish version, Cristóbal Colón; hence an “o” where the English put a “u.” Francisco de Miranda, the Venezuelan revolutionary who coined the name Colombia, intended it to be used for the entire New World. The newly formed Republic of Colombia claimed the name in 1819.

Now, for a simple mnemonic to distinguish the two:
            The capital of Colombia is BOgOtá.
            Columbia is the name of a University.

The Bard of Buffalo Bayou is a Latinophile because geographic names in South America are easier to rhyme than places like Connecticut and Massachusetts, not to mention Schenectady and Hamtramck.

            May your home-away-from home be a
            Cozy casa in Colombia,
            Nestled high upon a hill
            Looking down upon Brazil,
            Where you will dine on choicest filet 
            Of tender Kobe beef from Chile,
            Hoppin’ john with kangaroo,
            And Lima beans grown in Peru,
            Served with favas and farina
            From the fields of Argentina,
            And from sunny Uruguay
            A toasted ham-and-Swiss on rye,
            With luscious hearts of baby palm
            From balmy, palmy Suriname,
            Then, perhaps, a piece of pie
            Of peaches picked in Paraguay,
            Topped by chunks of sweet banana
            From plantations in Guyana.
            Escoffiers from Ecuador
            May make some petite petits fours,
            And then the maître-d’ will give ya
            Some bollitos from Bolivia;
            At last, to make it gaily gala,
            Viva vino from Venezuela!

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