Wednesday, 11 April 2012

D is for...

DEFINITION!

Today, a guest blogger is going have a little look at some words he feels need closer examination...

CAN I HAVE A WORD? (Part 3)

“Nothing to breathe but air,
Quick as a flash ‘tis gone;
Nowhere to fall but off,
Nowhere to stand but on.” (Benjamin Franklin King, 1857-94)

Can I have a word? – Again? Yes it’s part 3. We’ve done authors using words we don’t know; we’ve done us trying to beef up our vocabularies; now we’re going to look at a difficult, some may say impossible, couple of words to define properly: nowhere & everywhere.

Have you heard people (often children or teenagers) answer the question, “Where do you think you’re going?” with that innocent sounding, “Nowhere”; someone asks you where you are and you say, for example, “in the middle of nowhere”. That’s a rather longer answer than a simple “I don’t know” which, it seems to me, does the same job. You could shorten it to ‘ITMON’ if you wanted to invent a new word (for something that doesn’t exist anyway?). Not sure that’ll catch on.

First, let’s investigate “Nowhere” and the whole concept of it. Let’s start by checking the dictionary: it means either ‘in or to no place, not anywhere’ or ‘out of the running’. It’s an adverb so you can’t actually go to nowhere or come from nowhere. It’s not a noun like a place name would be. What I want to know is how can you be ‘not anywhere’? In other words how can we define a place that doesn’t exist by using a concept that also doesn’t exist with words that actually don’t make sense? Now there’s the problem. Perhaps we are moving into the realms of philosophy here. However, Ambrose Bierce (1842-1913) pulls the rug from under our feet by giving us this quote: “Philosophy: a route of many roads leading from nowhere to nothing”. Not a great deal of help there then. Hmm…. Ok, so maybe philosophy isn’t the way to go.

Remember, though, it’s physically impossible to be nowhere because, when you think about it, there is always a latitude & longitude for wherever on the Earth’s surface you stand; if you’re underground (or under the sea) there is still a location simply with an added dimension of “X” no. of metres under the surface. The same is true if you’re above the ground even right to the top of Mount Everest except you don’t need the extra dimension because the latitude & longitude cross at the particular height where you are.

Therefore you must be somewhere! You might not be in an actual place that’s named on a map or even known locally by a particular name but you just can’t be nowhere. Also it’s important to remember nowhere is an adverb. That means Talking Heads got it wrong when they sang about being on the Road to nowhere (1985); Dusty Springfield got it wrong when she sang about being In the middle of nowhere (1965); and the Beatles got it wrong when they sang about a Nowhere man sitting in his nowhere land, making all his nowhere plans, for nobody (1966); and perhaps the most confusing lines on the subject come from Jeff Beck in the opening lines of his song Hi-ho silver lining: “You’re everywhere and nowhere baby…” (1972). Now, just in case you were totally confused as to where that might be, Mr Beck helps us out by explaining that you’re (probably), “…..going down a bumpy hillside in a hippy hat.” Ah well, that’s a lot clearer then, eh?

So why do we use it? Is it to sound cool? Or to convey the idea that we are some kind of free spirit? Is it to emphasise the fact that you’re in a desolate place? – The middle of nowhere. Or is it because, really, we don’t understand what we’re saying? So why not stop using it or say it a different way. Go on you know you could. In the song Cotton Avenue, Joni Mitchell said it this way: “If you got no place special, well then you just go no place special”. Not nowhere just a “not special” other place.

I’ve tried looking for Erewhon but there’s nowhere so mixed up as that place!
However, I know what you’re thinking: will he be joining in after he’s heard those distinctive, foot-tapping, opening bars of the Jeff Beck song on the radio by singing along with “You’re everywhere and nowhere, baby, that’s where you’re at……….”? Course I will!
But hang on a minute…… I’ve just had a thought - where’s everywhere? How can anything, let alone a person, be everywhere? Is it all places……. except nowhere (or including nowhere)? And what about ITMON? Einstein gave us E=mc2; the Rambler has come up with E=E-N, (where E=everywhere, N=nowhere). Will it catch on? I doubt it but have a serious think about it!


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