Paul Andinach pandinac at tartarus.uwa.edu.au
Fri Jan 26 11:16:59 EST 2001

On Thu, 25 Jan 2001, Dorian E. Gray wrote:

> I heard a story (almost certainly apocryphal) to the effect that
> early European visitors to Australia saw a kangaroo for the first
> time and promptly asked a convenient native "what's that?".  The
> native replied "kan guru", meaning (allegedly) "I don't know".  Or
> maybe "I don't understand you".  And so the kangaroo got its name.

The version of events that linguists appear to have agreed on is that
"kanguru", or something like it, was actually the locals' name for the
animal the explorer was pointing at, but only for that particular
species, as opposed to the several species we call "kangaroo" now.

...I am reminded of an old ABC mockumentary about race relations in
the nation of BabaKiueria, a fictional country much like modern
Australia, except that the white people are the natives and the dark
skinned people are descended from settlers.
The documentary begins with a re-enactment of the first explorers
arriving in this country. Walking along the beach, they encounter a
group of natives; the young ones are playing games, while the older
ones cook lunch.
One of the explorers walks up to one of the natives and, speaking
slowly and clearly, asks "What do you call this place?"
"A barbecue area," replies the bemused native. 

"Hold fast to the one noble thing."

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