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Friday 7 December 2012

Word To Use Today: antipodes.

I'm sitting here, wrapped in a blanket, looking out at the frozen wood. The only cause for optimism is that the weather forecasters are saying that we're going to have the coldest winter for a hundred years: given the accuracy of long-range weather forecasts, that probably means we're going to have a barbeque winter.

In any case, my thoughts keep turning longingly to the summer of the antipodes.

So my first thought is, hey, if Australia and New Zealand are the antipodes, does that mean I'm in the...podes?

My second thought is: podes, that's Greek for feet. Anti-feet? What's that all about?

My third thought is: that's a bit of a mad thing to be wondering about, I'd better keep quiet about it.

But that third thought I've brushed away.

Happily it turns out that the antipodes doesn't really mean Oz and NZ at all. Antipodal means the direct or exact opposite, and the antipodes is the point on the surface of the earth exactly opposite the place you yourself occupy. So that means that for a New Zealander I am pretty much in the antipodes myself.

If you're in California the antipodes will be in the middle of the Indian Ocean; if you're in the Philippines the antipodes will be in Brazil; and if you're where I am in England the antipodes will be in the South Pacific (and quite close to the Antipodes Islands, as it happens).

It turns out that only 4% of us have an antipodes that's on land. So...hey doesn't that mean that antipodeans don't need feet at all?

What's the Greek for fin?*

Word To Use Today: antipodes. This word is the plural of the Greek word antipous, which means having the feet opposite, that is, with the soles facing towards our own.

When the word was taken up by the Romans the word became really quite puzzling, so that some mediaeval illustrations imagine the people of the antipodes with their feet growing out of their heads.


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