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Happy 531st Columbus Day!
A national day of semantic discovery
It’s Columbus Day in America, which means it is time to repent for abusing the word “discover.”
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Everyone knows that to “discover” something means you are the very first person ever in the whole world to become aware of it. Columbus didn’t “discover” America, because people were already here—lots of them, indigenous, and with slightly darker skin. And so, on this second Monday of October, the semantic stakes are as high as racism itself.
But you hardly need my wagging finger in your face, where so many have wagged before. Everyone already knows not to say “Columbus discovered America,” but what other abuses run wild, still unchecked? Let’s root them out.
I will search the Internet for some “discover” phrases, so that we may lament the injustice of humanity together. I use StartPage, but you can Google if you insist.
Also, I swear and pinky-promise that I am not cherry-picking! I am searching the first three phrases that come to mind, simply typing each one into StartPage, working from the top result downward, and letting the stats fall where they may. Numbers don’t lie!
Internet searches, top three unique hits, full sentence containing each hit, and assessment of “discover” usage:
SEARCHING for: “discovered his wife”
1. “A husband discovered his wife in bed with a neighbor.”
MBE Criminal Law and Procedure Practice Problems - Quizlet
This husband could not possibly have “discovered” his wife in bed. He is at best the third to know, a real Columbus of the bedroom. Spank this writer with thick rolled-up printouts of his own errant prose.
2. skipping, duplicate of #1 on different site
3. “At his trial, he admitted the killing but claimed it occurred in a fit of passion when he discovered his wife, whom he had already suspected of marital infidelity, kissing another man late at night in a parked car.”
Alcorta v. Texas, 355 U.S. 28 (1957). - Loc
Again, while we might debate whether the wife or her lover were the first to know, it was certainly not the husband. Spank this writer with the judge’s gavel.
4. “Further evidence indicated that Martin made inconsistent statements to law enforcement concerning the time he discovered his wife missing, whether his wife carried a gasoline can in her vehicle and whether his wife had used a BIC brand lighter found at the scene as a flashlight because the dome light in her vehicle did not work.”
Attorney General Steve Marshall Announces Court of Criminal Appeals Upholds Capital Murder Conviction of George Martin
Setting aside that the husband turned out to be lying, this use of “discovered” would require the wife herself to have not already known she was missing, an unlikely possibility that would involve such things as falling unconscious while getting kidnapped, or losing track of time while planning to return home soon. It would also require that no other witnesses, bystanders, or perpetrators knew she was missing—but then if you have kidnapped someone, are they really “missing” from your perspective?
In any case, when the husband made this statement, he could not have known whether he was the first to learn of her disappearance, even if he had not been lying. And so, we spank him—with broken glass and wolverines, because as the rest of the web page explains, he actually burned his wife alive in her car.
That was a weird one, so let’s take one more.
5. “He says that when he discovered his wife was dead, he waited until daylight and shot all of his dogs and cats, for the reason that they were his pets and he did not want to leave them to be abused by any person.”
State v. Peare, 113 Or. 441 | Casetext Search + Citator
Did the wife know she was dead first, before the husband “discovered” it? Maybe, I don’t know how these things work. Also it is not clear from this page whether a witness may have been aware before the husband, or for that matter, why he waited until daylight to shoot the pets.
Good thing we found “one more” after the “weird one,” right?
SEARCHING for: “until discovering”
1. “She shared with me that until discovering my account, she didn’t feel confident enough to wear one, and now she does.”
My two favorite bikinis. 👙
My two favorite bikinis. Hey guys! I hope you’re having a … - Instagram
This Instagram bikini styler obviously knew about her own account, as did many other fans, before the commenter “discovered” it. Confiscate that bikini! Spanking TBD.
2. “Discovering Fuji X System, with its excellent high-ISO noise handling, lineup of brilliant lenses, and smaller, more compact setup was a match made in heaven.”
I Was a Prime Lens Snob Until Discovering This Surprisingly Good Alternative
Usage: WRONG, WRONG!
In both the headline and the sentence inside the article, this writer “discovers” a retail camera lens. Obviously, a legion of engineers, manufacturers, and sales and marketing professionals already knew more about this lens than he ever will.
3. “They hit it off and Henry think [sic] he’s finally found the girl of his dreams until discovering she has short-term memory loss and forgets him the next day.”
50 First Dates (2004) - IMDb
Usage: PROBABLY WRONG.
Is a girl with short-term memory loss the first to know that she has it? Does she ever really “discover” this fact about herself, given that she will always forget it? It may be fair to say that this Henry character knows of her short-term memory loss before her, but surely her friends and family knew before he came along.
SEARCHING for: “first African to discover”
1. “The first European to discover Africa is a matter of debate among historians.”
Who was the first European to discover Africa? - Quora
Usage: PRESUMPTIVELY CORRECT.
Historians seem to think a European could “discover” Africa. This could only happen if Africa were uninhabited at the time, or else it would be no more valid than Columbus “discovering” America. I can only conclude that serious historians think the first African inhabitants came there from Europe.
Careful, though! That first paragraph was “written” by ChatGPT, a fact I did not discover until after taking the notes above (Did ChatGPT “know” it wrote that before I “discovered” it? If an AI “discovers” a tree falling in the forest, but there’s no one there to read about it before the prompt is cleared, does it make a sound?). I do not see any text written by humans for this quora.com headline, but related human-written headlines cited on this web page include:
“Which country was the first to be discovered in Africa?”
“How did Europe discover Africa?”
“When was the first African country discovered by Europeans?”
“Who did the British discover in Africa?”
Usage: WRONG, WRONG, WRONG, and a MAYBE!
That second headline is the MAYBE, if it refers to a European discovering an empty Africa, as already discussed. The other three involve some egomaniac arriving to Africa and somehow thinking its inhabitants didn’t already know about their own country/people.
Also WRONG, this StartPage hit for “first African to discover” is entirely about others discovering Africa(ns) and does not contain the search phrase at all! What’s up with that, StartPage? (Does Google make the same mistake?) I will keep this hit as a bonus and proceed to the next three real hits.
2. “Dr. Kwame Nkrumah amazed to have been the first African to discover water suddenly springing from a fountain as soon [sic] he sat on a chair in a garden in Leningrad ( now St. Petersburg) in Russia. African Historians have recorded this as a side attraction of his tour in July 1961.”
United States of Africa - Facebook
This joke relies on the true meaning of “discover,” ironically pointing out that Dr. Nkrumah is not the first person ever to become aware of this fountain, which must have been built by Russians before he arrived.
I included the second sentence of this hit just to note that African historians have concurred with what might otherwise be doubted as Russian disinformation.
3. skipping, duplicate of #2 on different site
4. “But this man also, now he's likely to become John Speke as the first African to discover L. Kakwenza in Germany.”
Ferouz Muwonge LIVE | Facebook - Facebook
Another joke, concerning a German lake instead of a Russian fountain.
Let’s find at least one that isn’t a joke.
5. “In Uganda, all students have been taught the first European to see the source of the Nile but not even single a single [sic] person knows the first African to discover the source of the Nile.”
18 Reasons Why Africa is so Poor
Usage: MOSTLY CORRECT!
Common sense suggests the discoverer of the Nile’s source was African. If so, then “first African to discover” is okay but redundant. If not, we have another Columbus situation, but that seems less likely. The “first European to see the source of the Nile” is fine either way, because it does not say “discover.”
Trying for one more serious result…
6. “Through writing a story, she makes him alive, known and glorified for he is the first African to discover the New World.”
SCENE OF ENCOUNTER IN LAILA LALAMI'S THE MOOR’S …
Pity, this link is dead, its corpse still decaying in StartPage’s cache, but we shall proceed with the complete sentence that appears on the results page.
An Algerian web site (judging from .dz in the URL) discusses a story about an African “discovering” the New World, which is every bit as preposterous as Columbus, unless African colonists were the original Native Americans. Perhaps the story is tongue-in-cheek, or perhaps it is about African progenitors of the Incas, Mayans, and Aztecs, but we’ll never know. I’m taking it at face value.
8 WRONG: marital affairs, disappearances, Instagram account, camera lens, short-term memory loss, country/people (academic source), continent (Algerian story)
1 INCONCLUSIVE: a person’s death
3 CORRECT: jokes about the term itself, criticism of colonial narrative
The good news: anti-colonial activists understand the term “discover” properly and serve as a shining example of semantic justice.
The bad news: The entire rest of humanity is a bunch of ignorant twadpockles thoughtlessly bashing up the world with insensitive whacks of “discover,” like The Three Stooges turning about with ladders on their shoulders. From every walk of life, they commit this semantic sin on matters big and small, from indigenous peoples and colonial narrative to marital affairs, camera lenses, and bikini pics.
Now we have work to do! We must brainstorm, spread awareness, maybe ban something—or mandate it.
Let me know if you have any ideas.
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