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ANTILLES, a term of somewhat doubtful origin, now generally used, especially by foreign writers, as synonymous with the expression "West India Islands." Like "Brazil," it dates from a period anterior to the discovery of the New World, "Antilia," as stated above, being one of those mysterious lands, which figured on the medieval charts sometimes as an archipelago, sometimes as continuous land of greater or lesser extent, constantly fluctuating in mid-ocean between the Canaries and East India. But it came at last to be identified with the land discovered by Columbus. Later, when this was found to consist of a vast archipelago enclosing the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico, Antilia assumed its present plural form, Antilles, which was collectively applied to the whole of this archipelago.
A distinction is made between the Greater Antilles, including Cuba, Jamaica, Haiti, and Porto Rico; and the Lesser Antilles, covering the remainder of the islands.
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