George Stimpson

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How did Argentina get its name?

The coast of what is now Argentina was first explored in 1516 by an expedition headed by Juan Diaz de Solis, pilot major of Spain, who was killed in a battle with the Charruan Indians. The survivors of this expedition reported that they had discovered a great freshwater sea, which they thought might provide a southwest passage to the East Indies. In 1520 Ferdinand Magellan, on his celebrated voyage around the world, explored "the sea of fresh water" just enough to satisfy himself that it was the estuary of a large river. In 1526 Sebastian Cabot, who had succeeded Be Solis as pilot major of Spain, was sent to explore the region and establish settlements there. He spent three years in the territory but was finally compelled to leave because of the hostility of the natives. In trading with the Indians Cabot obtained a number of silver ornaments. Back in Spain these trinkets, though of small value, raised the hope that the region might contain great mineral riches. Therefore the Spanish called it the Argentine and they supposed to be a great river Rio de la Plata. Argentine is derived from Latin argentum, "silver," which in turn was from Greek [page 52] arges, "bright" or "shiny." The last element in Rio de la Plata is Spanish for "silver." Plate in the sense of dishes, knives, forks, spoon and other tableware—that is, silverware in a generic sense—is from the same source. Later it was learned that the great expanse of water was not a river but the estuary of two rivers—the Paraná and the Uruguay. On May 25, 1810, the people of Buenos Aires forced the Spanish viceroy to resign and a new government for the United Provinces of the Rio de la Plata was formed. After complete inde. pendence of Spain was declared in 1816 the Argentine became Republica Argentina, "Argentine Republic." Although the country had the a 225-mile-long estuary of the Paraná and Uruguay rivers bear names meaning "silver," very little silver has been produced in that part of South America. The population of Argentina has a larger percentage of people of European descent than any other Latin American republic. There are virtually no Negroes in the country, and fewer than 2 percent of the inhabitants have non-Caucasian blood. A native of Argentine is called an Argentino in Spanish and an Argentine in English.