As a small child, I was taught the names of all the continents through a sweet little song. It was a catchy learning method and I can still remember the lyrics and tune to this day. Given recent events, however, it seems as though I’m going to have to squeeze in another four syllables. Maybe you’ve heard, there’s a new continent in town: Zealandia. While debate about whether this mostly submerged chunk of land constitutes a continent or not has been going on for the past two decades, geologists have just recently released new data that, according to them, confirms its undeniable continent status.
Bruce Luyendyk first used the term “Zealandia” to describe this continental newbie back in 1995, undoubtedly in reference to the well-known country attached to it. In turn, the name “New Zealand” comes from the Dutch Zeeland, meaning “sea land”, which is the name of a province in the Netherlands full of islands and peninsulas. It does seem like a suitable name for this nation of islands (and the new underwater continent). But before the Dutch invited themselves over and made themselves at home, the indigenous population, the Maori, had quite a different take on which characteristics of the land ought to be featured in the toponym. Aoteora, the most widely accepted Maori name for the nation, is commonly translated to English as meaning “the land of the long white cloud.” So, it seems like it’s just a matter of perspective, doesn’t it? One man’s land of clouds is another man’s sea land!
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