Tuesday 3 March 2009

utopia and dystopia

As any fule kno, the word Utopia was invented by Sir Thomas More in his book of the same name, published in 1516.
A fruteful and pleasaunt Worke of the beste state of a publyque weale, and of the newe yle called Utopia; written in Latine by Syr Thomas More knyght.

More’s imaginary land is depicted as enjoying a perfect social, legal, and political system. Later generations have extended the meaning of the word to cover any ideally perfect country or situation.

Etymologically, More built his word from the Greek οὐ ū ‘not’ plus τόπ(ος) tóp(os) ‘place’ (as in topic, isotope).

Theoretically it ought to be pronounced with uː-. But in practice it is pronounced juː-, exactly as if it were the prefix eu ‘good’, Greek εὐ. According to the OED, More himself made a pun upon this.
Vtopia priscis dicta ob infrequentiam, Nunc ciuitatis æmula Platonicæ..Eutopia merito sum vocanda nomine.

Be that as it may, it is as utopia that we know this word.

Words with eu- can have regular antonyms with dys-, from the Greek δυσ- ‘bad’. Thus we have eupeptic - dyspeptic and euphoria - dysphoria. Hence we get the relatively modern coinage dystopia, an imaginary place or condition in which everything is as bad as possible, which the OED dates to John Stuart Mill in 1868.

If the prefixes u- and eu- were not pronounced identically, we would not have had the irregular pair utopia - dystopia.

ɪf ˈɔːl ðə ˈwɜːld wə ˈpeɪpər
ən ˈɔːl ðə ˈsiː wər ˈɪŋk
ən ˈɔːl ðə ˈtriːz wə ˈbred n ˈtʃiːz
wɒt ˈʃʊd wi ˈhæv tə ˈdrɪŋk

IPA diacritics n̩ n̥ l̩ l̥ m̩ m̥ (very poorly aligned)

Polytonic Greek
Μῆνιν ἄειδε, θεά, Πηληιάδεω Ἀχιλῆος
οὐλομένην, ἣ μυρί’ Ἀχαιοῖς ἄλγε’ ἔθηκε

Kanji 出口 入口

Arabic عيدالفطر ‘īdu l-fiṭr

Table (doesn't work)
This is column one. This is column two.
line 1 line 1
line two line two
laɪn θriː laɪn θriː


  1. Interestingly enough, the transcription came out well, but the voiceless diacritics didn't. I don't know Polytonic Greek. It appears to have come through fine, along with the Arabic and Kanji. The table doesn't work.

    HOWEVER, in my newsreader, NetNewsWire, only the tables didn't work. The diacritics came out perfectly.


  2. Just a thought, here are some traditional chinese and simplifed chinese characters. I am not sure are they any different from Kanji, but as far as I know, Kanji uses a different encoding.

    Trad: 載客 狡辯, Simp: 载客 狡辩

    Perhaps, modern greek encoding is different from polytonic greek encoding, so here we go.

    Modern Greek: Το όνομα μου είναι Κέβιν. δεν είμαι έξυπνος.

    They look okay on my screen.
    Personally, I prefer this interface than the UCL one. Shame about the IPA diacritics, they look pretty much the same on my screen, I have to really zoom in in order to see the difference, I hope they are just teething problems.


  3. A similar change seems to have happened with the word "universal". Shakespeare's work suggests that it might've begun with /u:/ during that period. In the famous part that begins "Then everything includes itself in power" from Troilus and Cressida, the phrase "an universal" is used twice whereas we would say "a universal" now.


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