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Tell Me What Ink You Use to Draw Your Experimental Animals, and I'll Tell You Who You Subjugated.

Thanks to the paleography class, I have been thinking a lot about handwriting.

I have not yet recovered from the shock of learning that most students cannot read modern cursive, and if I didn't pay a lot of attention before, I have found myself reading about it and eyeing online courses on English calligraphy. And here is where I came (again) across "India ink," which we call tinta china (Chinese ink) in Spanish. This type of ink is one of the oldest in existence, originating in China, where the soot of resinous materials was mixed with water to produce it. Because of its origins, it is a naturally waterproof ink that does not require a binder. It might date as early as the 3rd millennium BCE, making it a relatively old material.

Despite its indisputable Chinese origin, the common English use of the name India ink is likely the result of a colonial naming convention from when the British Empire extracted all its wealth from India.

Despite that strong connection of the Brits with India, one never finds bunnies of the Indias in English. Of course, those are neither bunnies and certainly not from India, but rather from the yet-to-be-named Americas (the Indias), where they had existed since about 5000 BCE. So, the Spaniards called "cuys" (cavys or cobayos) conejillos de India, but the English insisted that these must be Guinea pigs and called them so.

Guinea is in Africa, but the Guinea pigs come from the Andes area, where Peru, Ecuador, and Bolivia are today. I'm at a loss to explain why these have the word "Guinea" in their name, but perhaps the British just meant that those tiny pigs come from a faraway place, even though they are rodents and from the land of the Incas (which, for some, was the center of the universe).

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Feb 06, 2023

Could the term have arisen from the practice of transporting the animals to Europe from ports located in the Guinea region of West Africa? Just thinking🐇

Barbara Bordalejo
Barbara Bordalejo
Feb 07, 2023
Replying to

The OED states that it is most definitively NOT a corruption of Guyana. Of course, they might be wrong but you would have to prove it.

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