Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Strangeness of Everyday Words

It's happened to me many a time, normal, everyday words, the very same words and spellings we've used in conversations and writings for years and years, suddenly just don't seem right anymore. No matter how you look at it, write it, or how many times you retype it, there is just this new, inherent wrongness associated with it. Now, granted this might not last for long, sometimes not even past the act of asking someone else (or even the nearest SpellCheck bot) to verify that, yes indeed, it is correct; however, it never fails to throw one for a momentary loop.
I experienced a new facet of this phenomenon recently that I had, as of yet, never encountered. Traveling through an airport on my way back from a week in Montana, I over heard someone mention Seattle. Now, Seattle is a town I have visited more times than I can count and cherish dearly, hearing its name this time, though, made me pause with a strange thought at the forefront of my mind. It is a very strange thing we do, very odd, to refer to a locale or a place that extends for who knows exactly how many units of any one measurement, by a name, a word, and expect it to cover it as simple as that.
Taken from the anthropological point of view, this cultural practice is indeed an unsound one. As the population of the world, or even one geographical location (although in this context the phrase "geographical location" also makes no sense, perhaps I should mean physical land mass) grows, borders of 'villages', 'towns', 'cities', 'states', 'nations' merge, blend, shift, move, and change. Even within a population that changes very little, if at all, it is nearly impossible to interpret or know where the Exact borders of their land are.
I have never known of a culture or society who, outside of perhaps their own personal property (aka: such as siblings who share a bedroom) to deliberately and (semi-)permanently mark the official or even unofficial boundaries of their land(s). Granted, maps do this in a symbolic way, but even then, news of borders being in dispute and moving, being changed is continuous if one knows where to look for it.
The fact that we presume to know the Exact location of borders between official geographical areas or cultural ones must say an awful lot about us as a culture.Our need to control our surroundings perhaps? For one must, logically admit, that even outside of the cultural changes abound, no human can presume to control geological changes to the physical world around us so much as to be able to predefine and forever set such borders in stone, as it were. Realizing such, how is it possible that we can think to assign a set of single words or terms to areas which so obviously combine, merge, and shift with little warning and, quite possibly, no methods of prediction.

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