Where Does the Word “Commando” Come From and What Does Commando Mean?

Although it was the Portuguese who were first to colonize South Africa, no extensive development of the region took place until the Dutch East India Company founded Capetown in the latter part of the seventeenth century.

Dutch settlers immediately began to have difficulties with the natives. The Hottentots, first to be encountered, were either enslaved, slain, or driven out, but as the colonists extended their settlements within the next hundred years they came against the more hostile and warlike Bushmen.

Here, adopting a strategy of the earlier Portuguese, they organized their military parties into small units or commands capable of effecting quick raids against Bushmen villages. It is said that within six years they thus killed or captured more than three thousand Bushmen.

The name of such a military unit, commando, meaning a party commanded, was also borrowed from the Portuguese, and came into English knowledge when the British began to establish colonies in southern Africa in the early nineteenth century.

The British revived the term in World War II and applied it to each of various military units specially trained to effect quick raids into enemy-held country, usually at night, either to secure information, to destroy some menace, or to engage in some military undertaking involving great risk and requiring unusual courage, skill, speed, and initiative.

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