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When Christopher Columbus set sail, his goal was to establish a shorter trade route from Europe to India.
Back then, spices were a hot commodity, and our dear Columbus hoped to bring back from his journey a famed and exotic Indian spice: black pepper (piper nigrum, of the family piperaceae).
As you may have heard, Columbus made a bit of a miscalculation and ended up in America. More accurately, he landed in the Caribbeans. There, he came upon strange people whom he named “Indians”, and strange birds which he named “Indian Chickens”.
He also made a lesser-known discovery, of an unfamiliar plant with pungent taste. Being the presumptuous jerk that he was, Columbus immediately determined that this was the Indian spice he’d been searching for – and called it “pepper”.
However, the plant he actually found was capsicum, of the family solanaceae, which is not even remotely related to pepper. To this day, we still use the names “chilli pepper”, “sweet pepper” and “bell pepper” to describe the juicy vegetables in the capsicum genus, which don’t even resemble the small peas of piperaceae.
To summarise: The venerated 15th-century explorer was actually a trader looking for quick profit. He undershot India by 15,000 kilometres and ended up accidentally re-discovering a continent that had already been inhabited by humans for 45,000 years prior, and by modern Europeans (Nords) since the 10th century.
There he proceeded not only to mistreat the natives, but also to misname them, their livestock, and their vegetables, skewing human language for the next 500 years. Don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t name a university after this man…
Bonus: Did you know that turkeys are still called “Indian chickens” in Hebrew?
And also: Why are they called “turkey” in English?!