Language Lens

A blog about life, discovery and culture through the lens of language and linguistics.

Archive for the tag “grand canyon”

No, the Canyon de Colorado isn’t in Colorado

This could have been a good introductory post to my blog as it’s about where I’m from, the State of Colorado in the US.  Living away from Colorado, in what feels like another world many days, I have developed a standard speech when I am asked the common question: “De dónde sos?” (Where are you from in Rioplatense Spanish.)

Just imagine the following in Spanish please:

  • “It’s in the middle of the country (US), more on the west.  We are famous for the mountains.  Maybe you’ve heard of Aspen (as many people have.)”

The response is just as predictable as my speech has become,

  • “Oh the Canyon de Colorado!”

Then I find myself looking for a kind way to tell them they are wrong.

This is how it usually goes you see, although this past weekend was different.  At a birthday party I could feel the conversation coming on, and I beat it to the punch.  As I introduced myself I added something new: “I’m from Colorado in the US, and no it’s not where the canyon is.” 🙂


The Grand Canyon is in the State of Arizona and is technically a long gorge formed by geological activity and erosion caused by the Colorado River.  It is one of the Seven Wonders of the World, in total 277 miles (446 km) long, up to 18 miles (29 km) wide and over a mile (6,000 feet / 1,800 meters) deep.  Geologists debate about the processes and time that it took to form the canyon, but recent information suggests that the Colorado River established its course through the canyon more than 17 million years ago.  Evidently during the ice ages weather conditions increased the amount of water in the river, in turn cutting deeper and faster to form the modern day Grand Canyon.  Today the canyon exposes nearly two billion years of the earth’s geological history!

And folks, THIS is where the connection to Colorado comes from, not from the canyon’s home state.  You see to my surprise the canyon is known as The Colorado Canyon in Spanish (Gran Cañón del Colorado or simply Cañón del Colorado).  Although Colorado technically means “red” or “colored red” in Spanish, and despite the canyon’s red color, this isn’t the reason it holds the name.  Spanish uses the name of the river that formed the canyon as the descriptor, rather than the state where it sits.  The name Colorado first came into use after the discovery of gold in the state and because of the red sandstone soil in the region…nothing to do with the canyon I’m afraid.

PS – I would bet that a lot of Coloradans have no idea how many people come looking for the Grand Canyon in their state!

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