10 February 2011

Hank the Beautiful (Etymology, Comedy, Sexism, Vikings, and Asterisks)

You may be aware that the term "America" likely comes from the name of cartographer Amerigo Vespucci, being the Latinized, feminine form of his first name (Amerigo -> Americus -> America, to match the feminine names of the Old World continents). Vespucci made journeys to the New World after Columbus and his name was on the maps he made, and another cartographer apparently saw fit to therefore name over a quarter of the world's land area after him (to his credit he of course didn't know it was that much).

Looking up the etymology of "Amerigo," it would seem that it comes from the Germanic "Haimirich*" (via the German "Heinrich" and the Latin "Emericus"). The English form of Haimirich/Heinrich is Henry. So, more-or-less, the New World's name is Henry, and we are the United States of Henry. Actually, since it's been feminized, it would be the United States of Henrietta/the United States of Harriet.

I must admit my preference leans toward the male versions, not out of misogyny, but because "Henry" and its derivatives strike me simply as funnier names (who knows, there could be some convoluted bit of unconscious misogyny wrapped up in that perception). My reasoning is that in all its English forms (Henry, Harry, Hank) the masculine version is shorter, which emphasizes the inelegance of the translation. The masculine forms of the name are also more common, again highlighting the pedestrian nature of the actual word against all the grand concepts we've built into the term "America" over the centuries. And lastly, it could actually be my desire to avoid misogyny in the first place that makes me more willing to associate simple-mindedness/idiocy (clearly funny) with males than females that makes the masculine forms seem funnier. Or it could just be that males really are the idiots.

So in any case I think from now on I'll admonish a personified America** by making reference to "Hank" or "Harriet," and all the stupid things they've done. (Ex: America invades Iran. "God dammit, Hank! What were you thinking!?")

*I purposely didn't go into the meaning of the name Haimirich because there's no comedy there. It means "ruler of the home." There's some appeal in there for the feminist side of me since "America" might be said to be referring to a female ruler of a home, but there's no funnies to be had.

**I think this is clearly the best personification of America to date. The first, Columbia, certainly has some romantic appeal, given her usual depiction of stateliness and beauty. She is however most unfortunately named after Columbus, who was a dumbass.*** The second, Uncle Sam, is just a creeper. Hank/Harriet is the one to go with.

***Leif Erikson Day is soon! October 9th, so this Saturday. He's the real European**** to be honoring when it comes to discovering the New World, since he beat that idiot Columbus by like 500 years, and I'm pretty sure he didn't die thinking he'd been to Asia (yup, that's what Columbus thought). So I expect you all to celebrate accordingly. How does one celebrate accordingly, you ask? I don't know, you figure it out. DO VIKING THINGS AND WHATNOT.

****Okay only one more of these references because I think if I have any more asterisks I'm gonna tear a hole in spacetime. Clearly the Americas were populated by their own indigenous peoples, so talk of the New World being "discovered" by foreign folks is silly. But it's still interesting, including the fact that there's also some indication that Polynesians, the amazing seafaring peoples that they were, may have made it all the way across the Pacific to the South American mainland before Columbus got to the Caribbean, and maybe even before Leif Erikson got to Canada. This is because sweet potatoes, which are supposed to be native to the New World, seem to have been cultivated in Polynesia around 1000 CE. Also there's some stuff with chickens.

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