Friday, October 15, 2010

Where is a lillypution when you really need one?

In my mini-series of Columbus Day posts (there were two, here and here), I wrote that North and South America were named after an Italian, Amerigo Vespucci, but the new lands could just as easily have been called North and South Vespucci. Reader Pat (an Arkansas stamper) commented that Vespuccians sounds like little green men from a distant planet. Then reader David Barlow of Manti/Ephraim/Tooele (pick one), Utah, said (and I quote):

“i met a vespuccian once attt the zoo in slc>>>>he wasn’t at all green buthad a yellow hat with candy sprinkles all over it:::::::says he was there to take all my mopney but a lillypution was at my side and he woouldn’t let this character touch me>>>>just sayin” [Editor’s note. slc is Salt Lake City. All spelling, capitalization, punctuation, spacing, and special characters courtesy of David Barlow. --RWP]

This style of communication is known in the trade, at least west of the Mississippi, as “putzifiying” and I fervently hope it doesn’t catch on.

Nevertheless, his comment put me in mind of Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift. If it didn’t put you in mind of that, I simply do not understand how your mind works.

Here’s an outline of the travels of the fictional Dr. Lemuel Gulliver:

Part I: A Voyage to Lilliput
Part II: A Voyage to Brobdingnag
Part III: A Voyage to Laputa, Balnibarbi, Luggnagg, Glubbdubdrib, and Japan
Part IV: A Voyage to the Country of the Houyhnhnms

So I'm not disputing that Mr. Barlow may have seen a vespuccian, but what he had by his side was not a lillypution but a Lilliputian. Or possibly a leprechaun. I’m just sayin’....

You can read elsewhere about what Gulliver encountered in Lilliput, Brobdingnag, Laputa, Balnibarbi, Luggnagg, Glubbdubdrib, and the Country of the Houyhnhnms. The country that sticks out like a sore thumb in the list above is Japan.

Swift wrote that after reaching Japan, Gulliver asked the Emperor “to excuse my performing the ceremony imposed upon my countrymen of trampling upon the crucifix,” which the Emperor granted.

Say what?

Yes, you read that correctly. Swift was referring to a Japanese custom that began in Nagasaki in 1629. Suspected Christians were required to step on a likeness of Jesus or Mary in order to prove they were not members of that outlawed religion. Executions of people who refused to abandon their faith took place in Nagasaki, where some were dumped into a volcano. The practice was abandoned in 1856 at ports that had been opened to foreigners, but use of fumi-e (Japanese: 踏み絵, fumi ‘stepping-on’ + e ‘picture’) remained in use in other areas of Japan until Christian teaching was placed under formal protection during the Meiji period (1868 - 1912). You can read more about fumi-e here.

This lillypution has his shillelagh at the ready to help me fend off any over-eager Japanese person in the neighborhood who didn’t get the memo.


  1. Fascinating information about the Japanese and the crucifix. I can't recall that I've ever read that, anywhere else, before. You do find the most interesting snippets, my dear RWP.

  2. I thought there was some doubt that America is named after Amerigo Vespucci?

    Places took the first names of kings and queens -- Louisiana, Maryland, Adelaide etc -- but not explorers. They used their second names, like the Cook Islands.

    I wish I could remember where I read this!

  3. Try googling Richard Amerike (or Amreyk)