I don’t know if it’s true but here are three examples of language misunderstandings from the colonial past:
- Kangaroo. A common myth about the kangaroo’s English name is that it came from the Aboriginal words for “I don’t understand you.”
- Macau. It is said that when the Portuguese sailors landed at the coast just outside the temple and asked the name of the place, the natives replied “A-Ma-Gao” (Bay of A-Ma). The Portuguese then named the peninsula Macau.
- Yucatán. There is a popular myth that the name Yucatán comes from the Yucatec Maya phrase for “listen how they speak,” or “I don’t understand your words” — supposedly said by contact period Maya when the first Spanish explorers asked what the area was called.