the assumption of responsibility for the welfare of the world














This reference base is a work of analytical description, of the world and various topics within it. While it attempts to provide some of the basic structure for understanding the world, there is a particular focus on correcting common misinformation or misconceptions. Thus, seemingly-random topics are included or discussed in detail not because they are more important, but because they are not covered elsewhere, or are covered misleadingly.


Entries in bold have detailed, separate articles. Entries in italics define technical terms, being given a specific meaning in the reference base to represent important concepts with no consistent terminology.

beg the question
climate change
continental divide
drainage basin
drainage path
ethnic cleansing
global warming
Great Basin
greenhouse effect
Hong Kong
Immaculate Conception
Indo-Gangetic Plain
Kansas City
lowest common

mutual intelligibility
New World
New York
North America
North China Plain
Northeast Corridor
Old World
ozone depletion
Quad Cities
Rhode Island
rhoticity in English
Salish Sea
settlement basin
settler society
surface water
Uttar Pradesh
West Africa
world region



Abidjan — the main city and seat of government of Ivory Coast (Côte d’Ivoire). The seat of government (or “capital”) is usually said to be Yamoussoukro, but few government institutions are based there.

Abyssiniaሐበሻ « Habäša » — a cultural nation of East Africa, speaking the Ethiopian Semitic dialects, and the region inhabited by that nation. The Abyssinian dialects are Amharic (አማርኛ « Ɔämarəña »), Tigrinya (ትግርኛ « Təgərəña »), and Tigré (ትግራይት « Təgərajətə »). The Abyssinians were the dominant people of the Ethiopian empire, and are now the dominant people of its successor states of Ethiopia (ኢትዮጵያ « Ɔitəjopija ») and Eritrea (ኤርትራ « Ɔerətəra »). They share a unique script, Fidel (ፊደል « Fidälə »), and traditionally practice a distinctive form of Eastern Christianity.

AlbaniaShqipëria — a cultural region (depicted at right) and nation in the western Balkan peninsula, whose people speak the Indo-European dialect of Albanian (Shqip), which is its own branch of the family. Albanians are among the few Europeans peoples who are predominantly Muslim. The main city is Tirana (Tiranë). By extension, ‘Albania’ is also a state dominated by this people, though the people dominates another state, Kosovo (Kosova), and is a major presence in Slavic Macedonia as well. The use of ‘Albania’ only for one state comes from a time before Kosovo’s independence. For the state: Albania.

America — The main landmass of the Western Hemisphere, or that landmass and all the smaller adjacent and internal landmasses; the New World. ‘America’ is also used for the United States; this usage was originally simply to distinguish between the English in Britain and the English in the New World, reinforced by the official name ‘United States of America’ and by the fact that ‘America’ is a name more traditional for a country. For the US: United States.

anarchy — the absence of rule; a state (condition) in which there are no rulers (from Greek ΑΝΑΡΧΙΑ « anark‛ia »: Α(Ν)-, “not” + ΑΡΧ-, “rule”). Anarchy is not the same as chaos; and the application of the term ‘anarchy’ to a state of mob rule is perverse, since mob rule is not only by definition a form of rule, but also generally an extreme, violent form. Anarchists, advocates of anarchy, are typically proposing a system free from all coercion, rather than a system in which coercion is merely practiced at a lower level. For more: government.

Aryansआर्य « Ārja » — an Indo-European people speaking an Indo-Iranian dialect, Sanskrit (संस्कृतम् « Sãskŗtam »), who entered India around four thousand years ago, thereafter known as the Indo-Aryans. The Indo-Aryans are the dominant people of broader India today (especially the Indo-Gangetic Plain), speaking the Indic dialects, descended from Sanskrit. The adoption of the term ‘Aryan’ by the Nazis was ahistorical.

AzerbaijanAzərbaycan — a cultural region and nation on the west shore of the Caspian Sea, speaking a Turkic dialect, Azeri (Azəri Dili). Northern Azerbaijan, controlled by the Russian Empire, eventually became independent in 1991 with the dissolution of the Soviet Union, and is generally called simply ‘Azerbaijan’; southern Azerbaijan lies within the state of Iran. The main city is Baku (Bakı). The Armenian-inhabited Nagorno-Karabakh (Արցախ « Arc‛ax ») is no longer part of the state, but it remains conventionally a part of the country. ‘Azerbaijan’ is a transliteration from an earlier Cyrillic script; the ‘J’ is meant to be pronounced as in English, [dʒ]. The modern Latin spelling is based on Turkish, and is pronounced the same. For the independent state: (Northern) Azerbaijan.

Bahrainالبحرين « ɔal-Bahrajn » — a historical region (meaning “two seas”) along the east coast of the Arabian peninsula, inhabited primarily by Shiite Arabs. The name has more recently been confined to a landmass within that region, originally called ‘Awal’ (أوال « Ɔaŭāl »), and the state based on that landmass. No compensating term for the historical region has emerged. For the state: Bahrain.

Bangladeshবাংলাদেশ « Bā~lādēś » — a cultural region (meaning “country of Bengali”) where the Indic dialect of Bengali (বাংলা « Bā~lā ») is spoken, on the Bay of Bengal at the eastern end of the Indo-Gangetic Plain, and the location of the Ganges-Brahmaputra delta; equivalent to all of historical Bengal. The primary cities are Dhaka (ধাক « D‛āka ») and Calcutta (কলকাতা « Kalkātā »). With the independence of East Pakistan in 1971, the name is now used by and mostly about the state, in historical eastern Bangladesh. For the state: (East) Bangladesh.

Bantu — a branch of the Niger-Congo language family, forming a single dialect continuum covering most of the population of Sub-Saharan Africa outside of West Africa and the Horn of Africa. Conventionally divided, based on identity and historical affiliation, into hundreds of “languages”, but most of these dialects can be grouped with several others based on mutual intelligibility (for example, Zulu, Xhosa, Swazi, and Matabele; Sotho, Tswana, Pedi, and Lozi; Nyoro, Toro, Ankole, and Chiga). The name ‘Bantu’ was an original reconstructed form for the word meaning “people” in the parent dialect (now given as *‘bantò’).

beg the question — assume the thing one is trying to prove; use an idea to prove itself; make a circular argument. The reinterpretation of this expression in vernacular usage, based on its apparent meaning, is “demand the question be asked”, generally followed by a specific question, but the expression retains its technical meaning in logic.

Benin — a city of West Africa; by extension, the pre-colonial state ruled from this city, an enterprise of the Edo people. The name ‘Benin’ was later adopted by a post-colonial state (and hence country) nearby with no relation to the original. For the later state: (New) Bénin.

Brandenburg — a city of Germany, located on the Havel River west of Berlin. By extension, any of the historical states governed from Brandenburg, or descended from one that had been (as government shifted to Potsdam or Berlin), or the territory around Brandenburg regardless of organization. The last of the states became a subordinate state (Land) in the modern state of Germany, restored as a federal Land following the incorporation of East Germany; it surrounds but does not include Berlin.

bug — a very small animal visible to the unaided eye, typically excluding marine animals and sometimes excluding animals belonging to other recognizable vernacular classes, such as spiders. Biologists have appropriated the term ‘bug’ for the insect clade Hemiptera, thus known to them as “true” bugs; but there is no historical basis for this distinction.

Bushman — a culture and group of dialects in southwestern Africa, or an individual within that culture. The dialects are noted for the variety of click consonants, some of which have been adopted by the nearby, unrelated Bantu dialects. The term ‘San’ has been used for this culture by some, on the belief that ‘Bushman’ is colonial and sexist; but ‘San’ is in fact a highly-derogatory term, and, as there is no single native term for the dialects collectively, ‘Bushman’ is preferred by the speakers when referring to themselves in English.

California — the central region of the west coast of North America, including the peninsula of Baja California. By extension, the US state occupying the northern half of this region (historically, Alta California).

cement — a substance used to bind other substances (compare the phrases ‘rubber cement’, ‘cement in place’). The term ‘cement’ is often used for concrete, of which cement is one component.

China中國 / 中国 « Çuŋ5 Kuo35 » / 中華 / 中华 « Çuŋ5 Xua35 » — a cultural nation defined by the Sinitic dialects (a main branch of the Sino-Tibetan language family), and the region (depicted at right, in blue) inhabited by that nation. By extension, the primary state controlled or predominantly populated by that nation, at various points in history, including during those periods when the ruling dynasty was not culturally or ethnically Chinese. For the state (outlined at right): China.

clade — a group, typically of organisms, descended from a common ancestor (from Greek ΚΛΑΔΟΣ « klados », “branch”). The term ‘clade’ is meant to replace the various hierarchical categories (taxa) of traditional biology — kingdom, phylum/division, class, order, family, genus, species — and is used for two reasons: first, the hierarchy implies equivalence among the “classes” or “families” (et cetera) of different lines, suggesting equivalent diversity and equivalent evolutionary distance; second, the hierarchical system is inflexible, and as new relationships have been proposed, the hierarchies are often incompatible with the new relationships (for example, birds and reptiles were both traditionally recognized as “classes”; when birds were later recognized as dinosaurs, themselves a subset of reptiles, that left one class as sub-subgroup of another class, a hierarchical impossibility). Cladistics is the study of clades and the methods of their identification.

climate change — in a modern environmental context, the broad changes in climate resulting from global warming, itself the result of the anthropogenic (human-caused) greenhouse effect. The increased energy input into the Earth’s climate systems, in which water and air transfer energy from warmer to cooler areas, has complicated effects; global-scale warming can lead to local cooling, among other things, as well as changes in storm frequency and intensity. The expression ‘climate change’ is meant to capture these other effects, since global warming is not experienced as a universal increase in temperature.

Colomboකොළඹ « Kolamba » — the main city and seat of government of Sri Lanka. The seat of government (or “capital”) is usually given as Sri Jayewardenapura-Kotte (කෝට්ටේ « Kōttē »; ශ්‍රී ජයවර්ධනපුර කෝට්ටේ « Śrī Jajavard‛anapura Kōttē »), but Kotte is a suburb of Colombo and in any case houses very little of the government.

Colorado — a drainage path (Spanish, “reddish”) in western central North America, draining into the Gulf of California. The name was later applied to a US territory and subsequent state in the Colorado drainage basin, but not along what was then the nominal Colorado River, which began downstream from the Green River; the ‘Colorado River’ name was later extended upstream from the Green River confluence, along what had been the Grand River, which passed through the state of Colorado (hence, ‘Grand Junction’).

communism — originally, an economic system without private property (from the French ‘commun’, meaning “common”), and thus the theory and movement that rejected private property. The later work of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels came to redefine the theory and movement; later still, the ideologies and governing practices of the Russian and Chinese revolutionary self-described “Communists” became the defining reference, particularly in opposition, despite dramatic distance from the original.

concrete — a hard, durable composite material, used in construction since Roman times, consisting of small pieces of rock (in this context, the aggregate) mixed together with wet cement, which hardens upon drying. Concrete is often called “cement”.

continent — a large conventional division of the world, partially (but only partially) based on landmasses. There are several versions of the continental model; in the United States, seven continents are recognized (as depicted at right): North America, South America, Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia, and Antarctica. All versions, however, make an arbitrary distinction between continents (large) and islands (not large).

continental divide — a watershed on any large landmass separating the drainage of opposite sides of the landmass, particularly of different named “oceans”. For example, the main continental divide in North America, the Great Divide, separates water that flows into the Atlantic from water that flows into the Pacific. For more: surface water.

CyprusΚύπρος « Kupros » (Greek); Kıbrıs (Turkish) — a landmass in the eastern Mediterranean, just south of the Anatolian peninsula. Long inhabited by two main peoples, Greeks and Turks. Treated as a single country, but contains two states, since a 1973 Greek-Cypriot coup and Turkish intervention. The coup had been intended to unite Cyprus with Greece, ruled at that time by a military dictatorship. The main city is Nicosia (Λευκωσία « Leukōsia » / Lefkoşa), divided between the two states. For the modern states: Greek Cyprus; Turkish Cyprus.

Delhiदिल्ली « Dillī » — a major city in India and its historical seat of government, as well as the current seat of the Indian Republic. The current seat of government (or “capital”) is usually given as New Delhi (नई दिल्ली « Naī Dillī »), but this is merely a part of the same larger city.

dialect — any variety of speech, whether conventionally called “a language” or “a dialect”. For more: language.

doabदोआब « dōāb » (Hindi); دوآب « doŭɔāb » (Urdu) — in India, a region lying between two confluent waterways (from Persian دوآب « doŭɔāb », “two rivers”). By extension, the most important of these, lying between the Ganges (गंगा « Gãgā ») and Yamuna (यमुना « Jamunā ») Rivers, is the Doab (दोआब « Dōāb »).

DonbassДонбасс « Donbass » — a region in eastern Europe, near the Donets River (Донец « Donec »). The region is a coal basin — that is, a continuous underground deposit of coal (in full, the Донецкий Каменноугольный Бассейн « Doneckiĭ Kamennougolĵnyĭ Basseĭn »). The coal basin is named after the river, but its extent is unrelated to the drainage basin of the river. The presence of coal made the Donbass an important industrial area. The main city is Donetsk (Донецк « Doneck »). Though generally included in conventional Ukraine, the population speaks mostly Russian, and much of it has been independent of Ukraine since 2014. For the unrecognized states in the Donbass: Donetsk; Lugansk.

drainage basin — an area from which surface water flows into a particular drainage path or settlement basin. In modern usage, this is generally called a ‘watershed’, which originally referred to the elevated border of a drainage basin. For more: surface water.

drainage path — any route followed by surface water as it flows downhill. The terms ‘river’, ‘stream’, ‘creek’, ‘ravine’, ‘waterway’, and in certain contexts ‘valley’, ‘canal’, and ‘channel’ all describe drainage paths. For more: surface water.

empirical — based on observation of fact, in contrast to the conventional. For more: conventionality.

ethnic cleansing — the process of changing the demographic composition of an area by removing a particular ethnic group, whether through relocation (forcible or otherwise) or mass murder. Often used erroneously as a synonym for genocide or mass murder.

Europe — a region of the Old World, lying north of the Mediterranean and Black Seas, generally taken to extend as far east as the Ural Mountains and Ural River, and a part of the continental model. By extension, two smaller regions: a world region occupying much (but not all) of traditional Europe, notably excluding European Russia; and a political region, the European Union, which is itself a partially-defining feature of the world region.

genocide — the elimination or attempted elimination of a kind of people, with the intention that it should no longer exist. Genocide can be done through mass murder, but forced or planned assimilation is also a form of genocide. Distinct from both mass murder and ethnic cleansing, as well as accidental mass death.

GermanyDeutschland — a cultural region in Europe inhabited by speakers of Germanic dialects, particularly of the West Germanic dialect continuum, or the nation of those speakers. By extension, a state dominated by that nation, even if representing only part of the nation, such as the modern Federal Republic of Germany (Bundesrepublik Deutschland). Austrians and German-speaking Swiss are, in historical terms, also Germans.

Ghana — a historical state of the West African Sahel, probably based on the Soninke nation. The name ‘Ghana’ was later adopted by a post-colonial state with no historic ties to Ghana, an area of West Africa previously known as the Gold Coast, and dominated by the Akan. For that later state: (New) Ghana.

global warming — an increase in global average temperature; in a modern environmental context, it refers to the warming caused by the human aggravation of the greenhouse effect. Because the Earth is not heated evenly by the sun, and because its water and air systems serve to transfer energy from one part of the Earth to another, an increase in general heat affects climate systems throughout the world, thus leading to broader climate change. Global warming is different from ozone depletion.

Great Basin — an area in North America where water drains not into the ocean but internally. The largest settlement basin in the Great Basin is the Great Salt Lake. By extension, the term ‘Great Basin’ is applied to an ecological and a cultural area in approximately the same location.

greenhouse effect — a natural process by which atmospheric gasses — principally carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), water (H2O), nitrous oxide (N2O), and ozone (O3) — trap heat in the Earth’s atmosphere. This happens because electromagnetic radiation from the sun enters the atmosphere in a relatively short wavelength, primarily visible light, and heats the Earth, which then radiates energy at a longer wavelength, infrared, which is more likely to be reflected by the greenhouse gasses. The greenhouse effect is normal, and necessary to life, as it allows the planet to warm to the point where it becomes habitable. The problem lies with the increase in greenhouse gasses caused by humans, through burning fossil fuels and deforestation (CO2) and agriculture (CH4), thus leading to anthropogenic (human-caused) global warming.

Guiana — a coastal region of South America, extending as far inland as the watershed of the Amazon drainage basin (thus including all coastal drainage). It was divided in colonial times; the segments were thus known individually as Spanish, British, Dutch, French, and Portuguese Guiana (in order, west to east). Spanish Guiana is part of the post-colonial state of Venezuela, Portuguese Guiana part of the post-colonial state of Brazil, and French Guiana still retained by France; but British Guiana (Guyana) and Dutch Guiana (Suriname) are independent.

Guinea — the entire coastal region of West Africa, extending at least as far as the equator. The name ‘Guinea’ is used in that of several post-colonial states, and often by itself for just one of them, the former French colony governed from Conakry. For that state: Guinea-Conakry.

Hijazالحجاز « ɔal-Hiĝāz » — the central western coastal region of the Arabian peninsula, and the location of Mecca (مكة « Mak:aḧ ») and Medina (مدينة « Madīnaḧ »). The largest city is Jeddah (جدة « Ĝid:aḧ »). As the home of Muhammad (محمد ابن عبدالله ابن عبد المطلب « Muham:ad ɔibn Cabdɔullah ɔibn Cabd ɔul-Mut:alib »), the Hijaz is the central region of Islam.

Hong Kong香港 « Höŋ53 Koŋ35 » — a harbor (meaning “fragrant harbor”) on a small landmass in the Pearl River Delta region of southern China, known in English as Aberdeen Harbor. By extension, the entire landmass, the city centered on that landmass, or the administrative region of the Chinese state based on that city.

Immaculate Conception — in Christian (specifically, Roman Catholic) theology, the conceiving of Mary, the mother of Jesus, without original sin (thus unblemished or “immaculate”), so that she herself was unable, as an adult, to pass original sin onto Jesus when he was born. The Immaculate Conception does not refer to the doctrine that Mary got pregnant with Jesus without having sex; that is the doctrine of the Virgin Birth.

impeach — accuse; besmirch; indict; question the credibility, integrity, or virtue of. ‘Impeachment’ is the term used for the first formal step in removing an official from office under the United States Constitution; the term has frequently been misunderstood to refer to the removal from office itself, a misunderstanding that has extended to its use in non-English environments, like Brazil. Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton were impeached; neither they nor any other US president were ever removed from office. Dilma Rousseff’s impeachment came not when she was removed from office, but when she was formally charged with the infractions for which she was removed from office.

incest — sex, marriage, or romance between persons who are, by custom or law, too closely related for such a relationship. As the definition indicates, incest is socially relative; different societies have different standards of what is “too closely related”. The term ‘incest’ does not refer to sex or romance with underage relatives; when abortion opponents make exceptions for rape and “incest”, they are (perhaps inadvertently) making allowance for adult women who are pregnant from consensual sex that happens to be with relatives.

Indiaहिन्दूस्थान « Hindūst‛ān » / ہندوستان « Ĥindūstān » / भारत « B‛ārat » — originally, the land of the Indus River; by extension, the historical and cultural region defined by Indian civilization, eventually, the entire land formation (depicted at right) between the northern mountains (including the Himalaya) and the Indian Ocean. By further extension, the modern state constituting much of historical India, after Pakistan (including Bangladesh) separated from the British territory after its independence. For the state: India.

Indo-Gangetic Plain — an expansive lowland (in the lightest green, center-top in the image at right) across northern India, through which the Indus River and Ganges River flow. The Indo-Gangetic Plain is one of the world’s primary concentrations of population, historically and presently, and the origin of Indian civilization and Indo-Asian culture.

isthmus — a narrow area of land joining two larger areas of land. The existence of an isthmus is the apparent justification for the divisions of the Old World and New World landmasses into multiple continents. For more: landform.

JavaJawa — a landmass in the East Indies, the third-most-populous landmass in the world after the Old World and the New World. The main city is Jakarta. While Malay (Bahasa Indonesia) is the lingua franca, the main vernaculars are Javanese, Sundanese, and Madurese, all relatives of Malay.

Kansas City — a city on the Missouri River near the confluence of the Kansas River, after which the city (originally just ‘Kansas’) is named. The original settlement was in the US state of Missouri and is the basis for a municipality of the same name. A later settlement, across the Kansas River, took its name from Kansas City and is the basis for a separate, smaller municipality in the US state of Kansas.

KenyaKĩrĩnyaga (Kikuyu) / Kĩĩnyaa (Kamba) — a mountain in East Africa, and by extension the region around it. The name was later applied to a British colony whose seat of government (Nairobi) was in the mountain region, and retained by the colony when it became an independent state. For that state: Kenya.

Kuwaitالكويت « ɔal-Kūajt » — an Arab city on the Persian Gulf, and by extension, the state controlled from that city, and the country based on that state. For the state: Kuwait.

lake — a large inland body of water; usually, a pool (the North American and African Great Lakes); occasionally, a settlement basin (the Great Salt Lake). For more: surface water.

Levant — a region east of the Mediterranean Sea, south of Anatolia, west of Mesopotamia, and north of the Arabian peninsula. The region corresponds roughly to the countries of Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan, and the region of Palestine. See also: Sham.

LouisianaLouisiane — originally, a French territory roughly identical to the western Mississippi drainage basin (that is, the drainage basin west of the river itself). The term is now generally confined to the much-smaller state of the United States organized from the lower Mississippi, which had been the most populous portion.

MacedoniaΜακεδονία « Makedonia » (Greek); Македонија « Makedonija » (Macedonian Slavic) — a historical region in the southern Balkan peninsula, named for an ancient Greek-speaking people, and the state dominated by that people, associated in particular with its most prominent ruler, the conqueror Alexander (“the Great”, ΑΛΕΞΑΝΔΡΟΣ « Aleksandros »). By extension: (1) a South Slavic nation living in the broader region, a modern state dominated by this nation, and a country based on that state; (2) a modern province of the Greek state. For the Slavic state: (Vardar) Macedonia.

Maghrebالمغرب « ɔal-Mağrib » — the west (of the Arab World); historically everything west of Egypt. Residents of Morocco use the term for their country alone.

Manden — a cultural region (dark blue on the map at right) in West Africa, inhabited by the Mande nation (Mandenka) whose dialect (Mandenkan, variously Bambara, Jula/Dyula, Malinke, Mandinka, Mandingo) is a part of the Niger-Congo language family. Mandenkan is widely used as a lingua franca in West Africa (light blue on the map). ‘Mali’ and ‘Manden’ are cognate names; the Mandenka were the central population of the Mali Empire, and are the central population of the present country and state of Mali, as well.

Mesopotamia — the region of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, particularly in the historical Near East (from Greek ΜΕΣΟΠΟΤΑΜΙΑ « Mesopotamia », “in the middle of the rivers”). As the home of Sumer and its successor Semitic cultures, Mesopotamia was the home of the oldest and ultimately most influential civilization, through the expansion of European and Islamic government and culture.

México — a valley (originally Nahuatl ‘Me:šiɔko’, now ‘Valle de México’) on the Central Mexican Plateau, and thus the city occupying that valley (also ‘Ciudad de México’); the original settlement was Tenočtitlan on an island in the now-dry Lake Texcoco. By extension, the (now-subordinate) state (Estado de México) centered on and originally containing the valley and the city, and by further extension the independent federal state (Estados Unidos Mexicanos) governed from the city, and the political nation and country based on that state. For the independent state: México.

Mississippi — a drainage path (originally Chippewa « Miš:i-Si:p:i: », “big river”) of North America, starting west of Lake Superior and ending at the Gulf of Mexico near New Orleans; eventually called, redundantly, the ‘Mississippi River’. Later applied to a territory of the United States, east of the river and partially on the Gulf, and then to the western half of that territory as the first state admitted to the union from the territory, the rest eventually becoming Alabama.

Moldova — a region within cultural România, the portion lying northeast of the Carpathian mountains. The western half remains in the state of România. The eastern half was conquered by Russia during the Second World War, was organized as a separate republic in the Soviet Union, and gained independence in 1991. At the same time, it lost control of Transdniestria, dominated by Slavs. The main city in western Moldova is Iaşi; the main city in eastern Moldova is Chişinău. For the independent state: Moldova.

monarchy — originally, rule by one person; in this sense, equivalent to ‘autocracy’ or ‘dictatorship’, and now called absolute monarchy. Over time, numerous traditional monarchical states, particularly in Europe, have evolved into democracies, while retaining the former office of monarch for ceremonial purposes; this system is distinguished as constitutional monarchy. The supposed vesting of sovereignty in the constitutional monarch is, in such states, a carefully-cultivated myth, but has also led (for example, in Liechtenstein) to the reclaiming or attempted reclaiming of that power. For more: government.

MozambiqueMoçambique — a small landmass off the east coast of southern Africa, home to an Arab trading port, later the seat of government for the Portuguese East Africa colony. The name was later expanded to the mainland province of the colony that contained the landmass (modern Nampula), and later expanded again to the entire post-colonial state formed from the colony. For that state: Mozambique.

mutual intelligibility — the ability of two or more dialects to be understood by each other’s speakers. Linguists typically use mutual intelligibility to distinguish between “languages” and “dialects”; varieties of speech that are mutually intelligible are said to be dialects of the same language, while separate languages must be mutually unintelligible. Intelligibility is always a matter of degree, so linguists who make the language-dialect distinction are depending on a somewhat-arbitrary standard. For more: language.

Najdنجد « Naĝd » — an interior region of the Arabian peninsula centered on Riyadh (الرياض « ɔal-Rīād »). As the home of both the first Ibn Saud (محمد بن سعود « Muham:ad bin Sacūd ») and Muhammad bin Abdul Wahhab (محمد بن عبد الوهاب « Muham:ad bin Cabd ɔal-Ŭah:āb »), it is the political and spiritual base of modern Saudi Arabia, and the place of origin of Wahhabism (وهابية « Ŭah:ābīaḧ »).

New World — The main landmass of the Western Hemisphere, or that landmass and all the smaller adjacent and internal landmasses; America. The conventional division of the New World into two continents is based on an arbitrary emphasis on the Isthmus of Panamá. The New World is dominated by cultural Europeans, mostly Western Christians speaking just a few dialects — Spanish (Español/Castellano), English, Portuguese (Português), and French (Français). Aboriginal dialects have survived to a greater extent in Latin America, such as Quechua (Runasimi) and Aymara.

New York — an Anglophone city in North America, originating on lower Manhattan, or the municipality based on this city, both also called ‘New York City’. By extension, the US state including this city, also called ‘New York State’.

North America — in most uses, an element of the continental model, the portion of America (the New World landmass) from the Isthmus of Panamá north. In the world-regional model, and in the usage of Latin Americans, ‘North America’ is the part of America north of México: the United States, Canada, and Greenland.

North China Plain华北平原 / 華北平原 « Xua35 Pei214 P‛iŋ35 Üen35 » — a lowland region (depicted at right, in the center of the image) in eastern Asia, mostly inhabited by the Chinese, and one of the world’s primary concentrations of population, presently and historically.

Northeast Corridor — a nearly-continuous region of urban development on the east coast of North America, entirely within the United States, comprising the entire metropolitan areas of Boston and Washington and all the cities between, including New York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore. Washington and Baltimore are now a continuous urban area, and New York and Philadelphia nearly so. Also called ‘Megalopolis’ and ‘BosWash’.

Nostratic — a probable language family grouping several better-established families, particularly Indo-European, Afro-Asiatic, and Kartvelian. The full group given by Allan Bomhard also includes Elamo-Dravidian, Altaic, Uralic-Yukaghir, Chukchi-Kamchatkan, Gilyak, Eskimo-Aleut, Sumerian, and Etruscan. The Nostratic theory, and the glottalic theory of Indo-European which it partially reinforces, are still far from accepted by many linguists.

NovorossiyaНовороссия « Novorossija » — a territory (meaning “New Russia”) along the north coast of the Black Sea, conquered by Russia in the eighteenth century, mostly from the Turks, and settled by Slavs (including, in conventional terms, both Russians and Ukrainians). It was directly south of Ukraine, which Russia also controlled; Novorossiya included the western Donbass, while the eastern Donbass had already been in the Russian empire. Today, the territory is mostly Russian-speaking, particularly in the cities. In the later Russian empire/Soviet Union, Novorossiya was governed with Ukraine, thus most of the territory is now controlled by the independent Ukrainian state, while Crimea is controlled by Russia and the Donbass is partially independent, under heavy Russian influence.

obscene — offensive for its clear invocations of bodily functions, particularly sexuality, and therefore deemed disgusting. When describing language, the term ‘obscene’ is generally confined to vulgar (that is, common-language) expressions, hence ‘fuck’, ‘cunt’, ‘shit’, and the like. Euphemistic expressions for bodily functions are generally not considered obscene. Compare: profane, vulgar.

ocean — Earth’s main settlement basin, or a primary division of it. The named “oceans” on Earth are all in fact parts of one large settlement basin, containing nearly all of the world’s surface water. The conventional “oceans” as taught in the United States are the Pacific, Atlantic, Indian, and Arctic; other systems add a Southern Ocean, ringing Antarctica. For more: surface water.

Ohio — a drainage path (originally Iroquois « Ohí-jo », “great river”) of North America, between Pittsburgh and the Mississippi, eventually called, redundantly, the ‘Ohio River’. Later, a state of the United States, the first state admitted to the union from the territories along the river.

Old World — The main landmass of the Eastern Hemisphere, or that landmass and all the smaller adjacent and internal landmasses. Also called ‘Afro-Eurasia’. The conventional division of the Old World into three continents is arbitrary, based in part on a desire to give Europe a further distinction.

Ontario — a pool (originally Huron « Õtarí:-jo », “great lake”) of North America, the lowest of the Great Lakes, draining into the Saint Lawrence River; eventually called, redundantly, ‘Lake Ontario’. The name was later given to a province of British North America, and then Canada.

Oregon — a region along the west coast of North America, lying between California and the Alexander Archipelago, extending inland to the continental divide. The name was later applied to the US state at the southern end of this region.

outsourcing — moving economic activity outside of a firm, while still using it in the firm’s overall activity; hiring or subcontracting for an activity formerly done in-house. Outsourcing is not the same as offshoring, which is moving economic activity out of the firm’s primary country, whether it is retained within the firm or not. (Offshoring to a foreign branch of the firm is, conversely, not outsourcing.)

ozone depletion — the thinning of the Earth’s natural ozone (O3) layer, through the interaction of ozone with chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), such as were formerly commonly used in refrigerants and aerosols and thus released into the atmosphere. The ozone layer’s primary benefit to human life is the filtering of ultraviolet radiation. Ozone depletion was concentrated in the atmosphere above Antarctica; the reduction in use of CFCs has succeeded in reversing the effect. Ozone depletion is not the same as global warming or the greenhouse effect.

Padania — a region at the northern end of the Italian peninsula, originally the valley and basin of the Po River (Padan); by extension, the Po-Venetian lowland, its entire drainage basin, or the territory in which the distinctive northern Italian dialects (concentrated in the populous Po-Venetian lowland) are or have been spoken. The term ‘Padania’ is often associated with the nationalism/separatism of the Northern League (Liga Nord), or even its racism, but its meaning is straightforward in the original and the region it describes is real and distinctive enough.

Palestineفلسطين « Filastīn » (Arabic); פלשת « Pəlešet » (Hebrew) — a region in the Near East, between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River. The expression ‘Palestinian’ to refer to Arab Palestinians was presumably in the beginning just to distinguish them from other Arabs. Because much of Palestine is within the state/country of Israel, ‘Palestine’ is now used mostly for Arab Palestine. Though an Arab Palestinian state is talked about as a goal, this refers only to recognition of statehood; Gaza is effectively independent, and parts of the West Bank are a shared government with Israel. For the independent states: Gaza; West Bank.

planet — originally, a celestial body not fixed in location relative to the celestial sphere (from Greek ΠΛΑΝΗΤΗΣ « planētēs », “wanderer”), especially those of the same relative size and brightness as the stars themselves. As most of the original planets were eventually discovered to be bodies that orbited the sun as does Earth, the term ‘planet’ was repurposed to apply to all bodies that directly orbit the sun (including Earth), and then to bodies that directly orbit any star. The term ‘planet’ has more recently been repurposed once again, to apply to a select group of directly-orbiting bodies with specific qualities chosen primarily to limit the number of “planets”.

pool — a basin in the middle of a drainage path. Most “lakes”, such as the North American Great Lakes or the African Great Lakes, are pools. For more: surface water.

profane — offensive to the sacred. When describing language, profanity includes ‘God’, ‘damn’, ‘hell’, and ‘Jesus’. Compare: obscene, vulgar.

PrussiaPrūsa (Old Prussian) / Preußen (German) — a region on the eastern end of the Baltic Sea, around the settlement of Twangste at the mouth of the Pregolya River (Преголя « Pregolja »), extending west to the Vistula River (Wisła). Prussia was a region of the Western Baltic culture. Eventually German culture came to predominate in the area, and Twangste became Königsberg. A German Prussian state became in time the most powerful of the German states, after uniting with Brandenburg (around Berlin), and the resulting state was the foundation of the modern state of Germany. But the original region is now controlled by Poland and Russia, and the Old Prussian dialect is no longer spoken. Königsberg is now Kaliningrad (Калининград « Kaliningrad »).

Punjabپنجاب « Panĝāb » / ਪੰਜਾਬ « Pãjāb » — a region (meaning “five rivers”) of the upper Indus River and its tributaries, in the northwestern Indo-Gangetic Plain, and a primary locus of the creation of Indian culture. The five rivers are the Indus (سندھ « Sindh » / سنڌو « Sind‛ū » / सिंधु « Sĩd‛u »), the Jhelum (جہلم « Ĝihlam » / ਜਿਹਲਮ « Jihlam »), the Chenab (چناب « Čanāb » / ਚਨਾਬ « Canāb »), the Ravi (راوی « Rāŭī » / ਰਾਵੀ « Rāvī »), and the Sutlej (ستلج « Satluĝ » / ਸਤਲੁਜ « Satluj »). By extension, the dialect area covering this region (part of the Indic dialect continuum), or any political subdivision organized in this region, including the province in Pakistan or the state in the Indian Republic. The first vowel is “uh”, not “oo”.

Quad Cities — a group of four settlements and municipalities along the Mississippi that have grown into a single metropolitan area: Davenport, Rock Island, Moline, and East Moline. The first three, Davenport, Rock Island, and Moline, were originally known as the Tri-Cities. Some time after the coinage of ‘Quad Cities’, Bettendorf surpassed East Moline in municipal population, and was retroactively imagined to be the fourth of the quad.

qualitative — regarding quality; determined by kind or category. Two things are qualitatively different if they are of fundamentally-different kinds. The term ‘qualitative’ is often used in academics for “subjective”, based on feelings (for example, “qualitative” research, involving interviews to ascertain the personal views of subjects), but this meaning is not the basis of the qualitative-quantitative distinction.

quantitative — regarding quantity; determined by amount or size. Two things are quantitatively different if their differences can be measured (including by counting); two things that differ quantitatively but not qualitatively are of the same kind, and can only be distinguished by measurement.

reboot — a work of storytelling, generally filmed (for cinema or television), in which characters from a previous work are used, but in a new continuity, which overwrites the previous continuity, and typically using new actors. This is a reference to the computer reboot, where the computer is turned off and started again. ‘Reboot’ does not refer to works of storytelling that exist in the same continuity as earlier works; those are sequels (or prequels), revivals, or continuations.

republic — a state (from Latin RESPVBLICA, “people’s thing”) in which power rests with the people, not with one or a few individuals; meant especially as a contrast with traditional absolute monarchy. There is nothing historically or etymologically that supports the imagined distinction between ‘democracy’ and ‘republic’ in which a democracy involves direct rule by the people, and a republic involves indirect rule through representatives.

Rhode Island — a landmass in Narragansett Bay, now more often called ‘Aquidneck Island’. Politically joined with the nearby Providence region, as the Colony (later, State) of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. The abbreviation of this long name as ‘Rhode Island’ has meant that this shorter name is now mostly used for the US state.

river — a drainage path; generally used for those carrying the widest or deepest flows of water. For more: surface water.

Ruhrgebiet — a region of continuous urbanization in western Germany, along the Ruhr and Emscher rivers, extending east from the Rhein; originally a center of heavy industry owing to its coalfields. The Ruhrgebiet contains the original settlements of Dortmund, Essen, and Duisburg, among many others.

Salish Sea — an inlet of the ocean surrounding Vancouver Island on the west coast of North America; conventionally divided into Puget Sound, the Strait of Georgia, and the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

script — a system of writing; loosely speaking, an alphabet.

sea — a large body of salty water, smaller than the ocean; usually, an identifiable expanse, branch, or inlet of the ocean; occasionally, a settlement basin (the Caspian Sea). For more: surface water.

Semites — a broad cultural nation originating in the Near East, speakers of the Semitic dialects of the Afro-Asiatic family. The world’s two largest conventional religions, Christianity and Islam, both originated among the Semites, and the script developed for Northwest Semitic is the parent of the Greek script, and its descendants Latin and Cyrillic, as well as Arabic and possibly Brahmi. While Jews are Semites, there are other current (as well as historical) groups who are also Semites, including the Arabs, the Abyssinians, the Phoenicians, and the Arameans. The term ‘Anti-Semitic’ for anti-Jewish sentiment is inaccurate, then, and nonsensical when applied to Arabs.

settlement basin — a basin at the downstream end of flow in which surface water collects. This includes the ocean as well as certain other bodies, such as the Caspian Sea and the Great Salt Lake. For more: surface water.

settler society — a nation, state, or region whose people are, or are predominantly, descendants of settlers or colonists, and whose culture is that of the settlers, as opposed to any aboriginal populations that may have existed, which have been largely displaced or diminished in number, with their cultures marginalized or extinct. While the term is most commonly applied to societies descended from Western Europeans, such as in the New World (the United States and Canada, Argentina, Uruguay, and Chile, Brazil, Costa Rica) or Australasia (Australia, New Zealand), it can also apply to other peoples and cultures, such as the Chinese (Taiwan, Singapore), Arabs (all the North African and Levantine states), or Russians (Siberia).

Shamالشام « ɔal-Šām » — the north (of the Arab World). At its broadest, it refers to the entire Levant. It can also be used just for Syria, or at its narrowest, for Damascus alone. In ‘ISIS’ (in full, الدولة الإسلامية في العراق والشام « ɔal-Daŭlaḧ ɔal-Ɔislāmīaḧ fī ɔal-Cirāq ŭaɔl-Šām »), the second ‘S’ stands not for ‘Syria’ but for ‘Sham’, and has the broadest possible implication.

Sichuan四川 « Si51 Ç‛uan5 » — a lowland region in inland China (now often distinguished as the ‘Sichuan Basin’), and a historical region centered on that lowland. By extension, the much-larger province of the modern Chinese state, including territories historically part of Tibet. The name, also transliterated as ‘Szechwan’ or ‘Szechuan’, is literally “four” plus “river(s)”, but did not necessarily refer originally to a group of four rivers.

soldier — an armed combatant, often but not always in organized service to a state. The term is sometimes applied honorifically to all members of an organization that includes soldiers, even those members in noncombatant roles. Members of the US Armed Forces and their supporters usually insist on limiting this term (in a US context) to members of the US Army, but there is no historical basis for this practice.

sovereignty — in general, the (subjectively understood and claimed) right to rule; also, specifically, a franchise in the international state system. For more: government.

state — a social and territorial system created by a government.

stream — a drainage path, smaller in width or flow than a river. For more: surface water.

Sudanالسودان « ɔal-Sūdān » — a region (short for بلاد السودان « Bilād ɔal-Sūdān », “land of blacks”) in the north of Sub-Saharan Africa, immediately south of the Sahel. At least two colonial territories were named after this region: the French Sudan, which became independent as Mali, and the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan, which became independent as simply ‘Sudan’. Since the independence of South Sudan, the present country/state of Sudan now contains very little if any of the larger Sudan. For the state: Sudan.

Sumer — « Ki-en-gi » — a nation and cultural region of the ancient Near East, at the southern end of Mesopotamia. The Sumerians (« Sag-gi-ga ») originated Mesopotamian civilization, the world’s oldest and most important, and developed the cuneiform script. Their dialect, which went extinct in ancient times, had no established relationship to any known language family, but is among the proposed Nostratic dialects.

SwahilikiSwahili — a dialect in the Bantu dialect continuum of the Niger-Congo language family, originally spoken on the coast of East Africa (from Arabic سواحل « saŭāhil », “coasts”), centered around present-day Dar es Salaam. Its status as the vernacular of the coastal region led to its development as a lingua franca, first among Sub-Saharan African fishers, later between Sub-Saharan Africans and Arab traders who frequented the coast, and later still for inland trade among Sub-Saharan Africans, many of whom spoke other Bantu dialects. It has been adopted as an official dialect by the states of Tanzania (where it originated), Kenya, and Uganda, and is the primary lingua franca of the eastern Congo basin (mostly in the country of Congo-Kinshasa).

Taiwan臺灣 / 台灣 / 台湾 « Tai35 Uan35 » / « T‛ai35 Uan5 » — a landmass off the eastern coast of East Asia. By extension, the independent state now controlling and mostly confined to that landmass, officially known as the Republic of China (中華民國 / 中华民国 « Çuŋ5 Xua35 Min35 Kuo35 » / « Tioŋ1 Hua35 Bin35 Kok1 »). Taiwan is inhabited primarily by Chinese, but there is also a small aboriginal population speaking Austronesian dialects, and Taiwan is believed to be the origin of the entire Austronesian language family. For the state: Taiwan.

terrorism — the deliberate use of violence against noncombatants to create a general state of terror, in service of a social or political aim, typically through the intermediary of popular pressure to change government policy. Terrorism is a tactic, not an ideology, and has been used in support of numerous and sometimes diametrically opposite causes. By contrast, the use of violence against combatants, and the targeting of armed servants of the state, is war, not terrorism. The accidental killing of civilians is also not terrorism.

Tibetབོད་ « Bod » — a plateau in central Asia (depicted at top right, in the center of the image), bordered on the south by the Himalaya, and the cultural nation of those speaking Tibetan dialects who have traditionally occupied this plateau and the vicinity. ‘Tibet’ is now often used for the much-smaller autonomous region in the modern Chinese state.

Tibeto-Burman — one of the two branches of the Sino-Tibetan language family (the other being Sinitic), forming a single dialect continuum (depicted at bottom right, in blue). Most dialects in the continuum are politically marginalized, but two states (outlined at right) are dominated by speakers of Tibeto-Burman: Burma (ဗမာ « Bamā »), by speakers of Burmese (ဗမာစာ « Bamācā »), and Bhutan (འབྲུག་(ཡུལ་) « Ɔbrug (Jul) »), by speakers of Dzongkha (རྫོང་ཁ་ « Rzoŋ K‛a »). The large northern area of the cultural region is Tibet, occupied by speakers of Tibetan (བོད་སྐད་ « Bod Skad »).

TurksTürkler (Turkish) — a cultural nation of the Old World, speaking dialects of the Turkic family, usually considered a constituent of a larger Altaic family. The Turkic dialects (excluding Chuvash, Чăваш Чĕлхй « Čăvaš Čĕlxĭ ») form a single dialect continuum from Anatolia to northern Asia, known as Turkestan (Türkestan). Conventional “languages” within Turkic are generally identified by ethnicity or tribal identity, not by mutual intelligibility; they include Turkish (Türkçe), Azeri (Azəri Dili), Tatar (Tatarça), Bashkir (Башҡорт Теле « Bašq´ort Tele »), Turkmen (Türkmençe), Kazakh (Қазақ Тілі « Qazaq Tílí »), Uzbek (O‘zbekcha), Kyrgyz (Кыргызча « Kyrgyzča »), Uyghur (Uyğurçe), and Yakut (Саха Тыла « Saxa Tyla »). Most Turkic peoples are traditionally Muslim; the primary exception is the Gagauz, who are traditionally Eastern Orthodox. The term ‘Turk’ is often applied solely to those living in the state of Turkey.

Uttar Pradeshउत्तर प्रदेश « Uttar Pradēś » — a subordinate state of the state of India, in the Indo-Gangetic Plain, and by far the world’s most populous non-independent governmental region. The main city and seat of government is Lucknow (लख्नऊ « Lak‛naū »). While the name means “northern province” and has some historical basis, it was also chosen in part because the province was previously the United Provinces of Agra (आगरा « Āgrā ») and Oudh (अवध « Avad‛ »), commonly called “UP”.

UyghurUyğurçe / ئۇيغۇرچە « Ỉūjğūrčeh » / Уйғурчә « Uĭğurčə » — a dialect of the Turkic family, or a speaker of that dialect. The Uyghur nation lives towards the eastern end of the Turkic dialect continuum, mostly in the Chinese state. The vowel in the first syllable is the ‘u’, not the ‘y’, hence “OOy-ghur”, not “wEE-ghur”.

vulgar — common, of the common people; by extension, not worthy of respect or even offensive because of its commonness. When describing language, the term ‘vulgar’ is mostly confined to topics that are otherwise obscene — that is, invoking bodily functions, and thus disgusting. Vulgar language avoids euphemism; in English it is thus generally drawn from Germanic, not Romance, vocabulary, for example, ‘fuck’, rather than ‘copulate’. Compare: obscene, profane.

watershed — a ridge that divides water that flows into one drainage path or body of water from water that flows into another; the elevated border of a drainage basin. As the term ‘watershed’ has come to be used for the drainage basin itself, a watershed is now called, in that context, a ‘watershed break’. The metaphorical use of ‘watershed’ still refers, however, to the original sense: “a watershed moment in history” (that is, a time or event that divides history into two different periods); “the 9 PM watershed” (the time before which and after which very different television shows are acceptable). For more: surface water.

West Africa — a region in Sub-Saharan Africa, in the far northwest, between the Atlantic Ocean and the Sahara, extending in the east approximately to the Cameroonian Highlands. One of the world’s major concentrations of population.

Yemenاليمن « ɔal-Jaman » — the south (of the Arab World); historically the southern end of the Arabian peninsula. More recently confined to the state(s) on the southern tip of the peninsula, which excludes some contiguous populations in Saudi Arabia. For the state: Yemen.