By Fathouse Productions

The word shark appears suddenly in English in 1569 (stay with me, it?s worth it) in a pamphlet circulated after English fisherman fished a f^^^îng monster in the Straits of Dover, wherever that is, and brought it to London (somewhere in England?). The pamphlet says, “Ther is not a proper name for it… but that sertayne men of Captain Haukinses, doth call it a Sharke.” In other words, “DAMN, ¿¿THE F^^^ IS THIS?? We don?t know, but we know some hard-ass sailors who call it a “shark.”


So where  had they been? The Caribbean, the same place the Spanish discovered tiburones and adopted a Carib word for them. In fact, until Captain Hawkins, English used tiburon, as in this 1555 quip: “The seconde of these [Caribbean] fysshes whereof I have spoken is the Tiburon. This is a very great fysshe and very quicke and swifte in the water, and a cruell devourer.”

Captain Hawkins, later titled Sir John Hawkins because he was so great, was a slaver. He first got rich after he heard that hard labor in Spanish settlements in the West Indies was exterminating the natives, and that heartier Africans were in demand to work in mines and on plantations. He sailed for modern Sierra Leone and hunted down some 300 unlucky people, put them in chains, and sailed them to Hispaniola where he sold them. He quickly attracted new investors, (including the Queen!!!! Hot sh^t now!) for a second trip and this time stalked and shackled people from modern Guinea.

His third trip was a doosey. With six ships and over 400 men, he stalked and shackled another 470 people and delivered them to buyers in the Caribbean. He ran out of water, though, so he kidnapped a Spanish sailor and had him guide them to Veracruz, New Spain (Mexico). There, Hawkins’ ships accidentally bumped into the Spanish fleet bringing New Spain’s new governor. They chatted and made friends, but then the Spanish changed their minds and attacked.

Hawkins escaped and found himself with one leaky ship and 200 angry crew off the coast of Mexico. They sailed along the coast for two weeks until they ran out of food (they ate all their onboard cats, birds, monkeys, etc). Half the crew abandoned ship and tried their luck on the mainland… in 1568. Jesus. The other half risked it, and shortly experienced, hurricanes, storms, and starvation to sail back across the Atlantic. These starving 100 or so managed to make it to Spain, where they ate so well upon arrival that 45 of them went into shock and died almost immediately. (Demasiado jamón!)

Hawkins made it back to England in January 1569 with 15 men. His time on the Yucatec Coast of New Spain apparently exposed him to the Mayan Yucatec word xoc, for (roughly) big f^^^îng man-eating fish.

The image is from the Aztec Codex Fejérvary-Mayerand depicts acipactli, which some idiot in 1909 (Seler) translated as swordfish even though it has shark fins and a human leg sticking out of its mouth.

For more, see “On the origins of the Spanish word “tiburón“, and the English word “shark” in Environmental Biology of Fishes, Castro, 2002.

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