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Filibusters and The Words You Need Today

I've been proofreading a lot today, leading to two particular language thoughts, one of which is kinda long-winded, the other of which is not. First the long-winded one:


And I thought Freebooter was just a script font!


The book I'm proofreading is about the creation of the Cinco de Mayo holiday in California, and so the first couple chapters focus heavily on the events leading up to and resulting from the actual May 5 (cinco de Mayo in Spanish) battle at Puebla in Mexico in 1862. There's been a lot of discussion of race relations in California (and the U.S. in general) during that time period, with consideration "Atlantic Americans" (the book's term for white immigrants into California from the East Coast); U.S. Southerners (Confederates, since the Civil War was happening at the time); "Californios" (California natives -- formerly citizens of Mexico, but now citizens of the U.S. -- who were living in the area when it was wrested from Mexico in the late 1840s); and Latino immigrants from all over Mexico, Central America, and South America (many brought to California by the Gold Rush that started in 1848), and how all these different racial and cultural groups and individuals saw each other.

Unsurprisingly, most Latino Californians weren't very sympathetic to the Confederate cause, since it focused largely on the right to enslave people with darker skin, and Latinos were suffering quite enough institutionalized racism right here in California. Amping it up to the level of slavery didn't sound so great. And slavery had been illegal in Mexico since 1820, so it pretty much sucked for the Californios to go from being citizens of a country that forbade slavery to being citizens of a country that permitted it on the basis of race.

But in the book's descriptions of the Latinos' attitudes toward the whites in California, the book kept using the word "filibuster" in a way that made no sense to me, as it seemed to be a noun referring to a person. When I looked it up, I found out that this entirely familiar word, which I've been hearing all my life, has another meaning of which I'd been entirely ignorant for the past 41 years! To quote Wikipedia:
A filibuster, or freebooter, is someone who engages in an unauthorized military expedition into a foreign country to foment or support a revolution. The term is usually used to describe United States citizens who attempted to foment insurrections in Latin America in the mid-19th century.

So a lot of these Latinos in California in the mid-19th century had previously had most of their experience with U.S. folks in the form of these random asswipe "adventurers who tried to take control of various Caribbean, Mexican, and Central-American territories by force of arms." And (also per Wikipedia), "although the American public often enjoyed reading about the thrilling adventures of filibusters, American citizens involved in filibustering expeditions were usually in violation of the Neutrality Act of 1794 that made it illegal for an American to wage war against another country at peace with the United States."

Okay, so these rich white guys just took off and hired some poorer white guys and marched south and tried to take over countries, and this was happening as recently as the mid-19th century? Wow. I feel like an ignoramus, since I had no idea it was happening that late. As an example, apparently, some random U.S. lawyer named William Walker just went and took over Nicaragua in 1856 and said, "Okay. I'm the President now. 'Cause I say so." (The Honduran government executed him a few years later. I think he almost certainly deserved it, since he sounds like an arrogant prick.)

Anyway, so I've learned a new word -- or a new definition of one I already knew, depending on whether you define "word" as a set of phonemes/letters combined with a meaning, or just a set of phonemes/letters -- which is always cool.


And, on a less historically significant note


While proofreading, and while investigating the whole "filibuster" issue, I've been using my beloved Webster's (Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, 11th Edition), and today I noticed (Why did I never notice this before? How weird is that? I've had this book for years.) that there is a rather large box on the cover containing this: "The Words You Need Today." Of course, upon reading this, I immediately thought, "I really doubt I will need all of those words today. And what about the words I will need tomorrow? Are they also included? You are apparently making no promises on that score." I know it's nit-picky and most people will wonder why in the world I care about such things, but I find "The Words You Need Today" silly. Who thought they needed to add that to the cover? Sheesh.

Comments

( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
wild_irises
Nov. 24th, 2011 12:46 am (UTC)
I just ran into filibusters as a name for an occupation in Battle Cry of Freedom by James McPherson.
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )

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