It was the Age of Discovery, and monarchs throughout Europe were exhorting their subjects to “get out there and discover something.” And so they did – Christopher Columbus, Vasco deGama, Juan Ponce de Leon. Vasco Nuñez de Balboa, of Spain, was perhaps an unlikely discoverer of things. Having sailed on an expedition to the Americas, he became a planter and pig farmer on the island of Hispaniola. Unsuccessful, he tossed it all into the baby blue waters of the Caribbean and, to elude his creditors, sailed as a stowaway on a westbound ship, hiding inside a barrel along with his dog Leoncico.
Balboa settled in the Isthmus of Panama and became a productive member of the settlement, eventually becoming governor. One day on an extended nature walk he and an entourage decided to cross the Isthmus to see what was on the other side. They crossed through a heavy jungle toward the highest mountain peak. Balboa hiked to the top of the peak where they viewed a large expanse of water.
Legend has it that as Balboa finished this long and dangerous crossing, reaching the largest of the oceans, his second-in-command said: “Balboa, you must name this great body of water at the end of our perilous journey.”
Whereupon Balboa stepped into the water and said: “I name thee The Great Body of Water at the End of Our Perilous Journey.”
At this, his second-in-command said: “No, Balboa, be specific!”
The rest is history as Balboa said: “I name thee The Specific Ocean.”*
* This account of Balboa’s discovery was provided by Joel Kucharski. It must be true because I’m pretty sure he was there.