American as Schiacciata alla Fiorentina

Featured image: Cropped from “Schiacciata alla fiorentina” by webos fritos. Licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0


Due to intellectual difficulties, there is no audio for this week’s #4forNow.
I apologize to everyone who listens to my posts.

4 for Now

You’re probably familiar with the expression, “as American as apple pie.” There’s at least two things wrong here. The first is that apple pie originated in England. (The first written recipe is from 1381.) The second, and the topic of this week’s #4forNow, is that even the word “American” isn’t American.

In 1501, Amerigo Vespucci, a Florentine navigator who was on a voyage for Portugal, came upon Brazil. He recognized (unlike Columbus) that he had not reached Asia. Not having a name for this continent, he called it the “New World.”

Amerigo’s voyages were popularized after the publication of two accounts of his journeys. The disputed “Soderini letter” gave him credit for “discovering” the “New World” and implied the Portuguese map was based on his explorations.

In Introduction to Cosmography, the author says that in addition to the known continents of Europe, Asia, and Africa, “A fourth part has been discovered by Amerigo Vespucci … Since both Asia and Africa received their names from women, I do not see why anyone should rightly prevent this [new part] from being called Amerigen—the land of Amerigo, as it were—or America, after its discoverer, Americus…” (Americus is Amerigo’s name in Latin.)

Thus, “America” is Latin-Italian.

And as the name is used for both the northern and southern continents, the apple pie we know today is no more “American” than frejol colado from Peru, chancletas de güisquil from Guatemala, or kalaallit kaagiat from Greenland.

I think the important question here is, what did the Indigenous peoples on these continents call their land? (I mean, it’s so “American” to just swoop in, take something, and name it whatever we want, but it’s not a very nice practice.)

Following is a tiny sampling (as there are thousands of languages among all the Native tribes). Keep in mind, most of the peoples living in the Western Hemisphere weren’t aware of other continents, so words for “land” and “world” usually sufficed.

  • Qawasqar/Kawésqar (southern Chile): Kawésqarwaes (Kawésqar territory)
  • Abenaki (New England): Ndakinna (our land)
  • Inuit (Alaska and northern Canada): nunavut (our land)
  • Ojibwe (Manitoba/Saskatchewan): milwaki (beautiful land)
  • Lakota (Saskatchewan): makȟóčhe (land)
  • Nez Perce (Idaho): uetes or wéetes (land)
  • Kiliwa (Baja California): Ja ‘Tay Kwatu (place between seas)
  • Wuy Jugu (Brazil): ibi (world), i-pi (land)
  • Guna (Colombia/Panama): Abya Yala (land in its full maturity)
  • Nahuatl (Mexico): Tonantzin (our honorable mother) or Anahuac (close to water)

I’m not trying to shame anyone for having pride in their country, but I do think we need to stop and think instead of appropriating or naming a thing to which we have no claim. Many of the peoples from what we call the Americas are now extinct or endangered because Europeans showed up to wreak havoc and erase their cultures, like bulls in an apple pie shop.

4 for Later

  1. Apple Pie Is Not All That American by Kat Eschner (4-minute read)
  2. Check out the world map circa 1507. Zoom in and move around!
  3. More about how America got her name: The Waldseemüller Map: Charting the New World by Toby Lester (34-minute read)
  4. [Placeholder to replace a dead link.]


What places near where you live are named after (or with) native words? What do those words mean in English? Do those places still bear any resemblance to their namesakes?