A couple of days ago, I shared a story titled Discovering the Southern Flank of Lake Kivu. One Kenya-based reader thought the use of the word discover is inappropriate. He compared my statement to the colonial perceptions associated with the likes of John Speke, Richard Burton and Henry Stanley.
"You can’t discover things other people have experienced before you." He commented on my LinkedIn page. I have heard that before. Did I offend Rusizi and Bukavu people by claiming I discovered the tail of Lake Kivu?
The Cambridge Dictionary defines discover as follows: "To find information, a place, or an object, especially for the first time." For the sake of this discussion, let’s call the finder X and the found object/information Y. Is X finding something for the first time? Is Y being found for the first time? Does the inclusion of ’especially’ in this definition soften the ’first time’ consideration?
According to the Merriam Webster dictionary, discovering means making something known or visible — exposing it. Like Cambridge, this dictionary throws in ’first time’ somewhere which brings us to the X and Y dilemma.
Let’s hear from Google. The information technology giant mentions a number of synonyms including find, locate and come across. Moreover, the Collins Dictionary defines the word discover as "Becoming aware of something after looking for it or bumping into it accidentally."
The word discover is common in travel literature. Are travel writers, myself included, abusing this terminology? I use it quite often referring to my findings. However, history teachers don’t make sense to me when they ask their students "Who discovered Mount Kilimanjaro?"
Was I right to claim I discovered the source of Rusizi River? The tools I use to learn English give my proclamation a clean bill of health but not everyone agrees.