What was the Spanish Main? Was there a Spanish Backup?

Dear Cecil:

What was the Spanish Main? Was there a Spanish Backup?

Cecil replies:

Quiet, rodent. Apparently the Spanish Main originally meant the Spanish-controlled mainland, meaning the north coast of South America and later the Caribbean coast of Central America as well. English pirates, never punctilious in matters of usage, eventually began slinging the term around casually to denote the Caribbean itself.

Send questions to Cecil via cecil@straightdope.com.

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