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.
Two contrasts are important for understanding this work and its motivations. The first is the contrast between the empirical, based on observation of fact, and the conventional, based on agreement (see conventionality). The second is the contrast between term and concept. Terms can have multiple meanings; concepts can be represented by more than one term. Concepts are more important in understanding the world, but we can only discuss concepts in terms, so it is necessary to choose the terms that most accurately represent the concepts in question, and, where no terms do so accurately, to define technical terms carefully to represent those concepts, and then to use them consistently.
Language changes over time; when that has happened, the reference base will typically state the original meaning, and then note that the term has been extended to cover additional meanings. There is an axiom in linguistics, that no native speaker of a dialect ever makes a grammatical mistake. But even the most committed linguistic descriptivists will recognize that language learners (children; native speakers of other dialects) do make mistakes, and can be meaningfully “corrected”. And that raises the question of whether even native speakers ever stop being language learners. The view taken here is that while language does change, not all meanings in use are equally important or accurate; there is a window, for example, where a new popular meaning of a term can be recognized as “wrong” (see beg the question, impeach, Stars and Bars, ethnic cleansing). At the same time, there are many cases where popular meanings should be privileged, because a common term has been appropriated by a specialist group for a narrow purpose. These specialists may be experts in their own fields, but they are not authorities on language that the rest of us are obligated to submit to (see fruit, nut, steam, Canadian goose); we should be especially suspicious when a common, simple word like ‘bug’ is supposed to have a technical meaning, since such words would have evolved prior to the development of such technical knowledge.
Definitions and descriptions are meant to be precise and in reference only to what is also precise, or to clearly-marked postulates. Imprecision and subjectivity that may appear is generally inherent; for example, a ‘lake’ is a “large” body of water because the term ‘lake’ is inherently as imprecise and subjective as the term ‘large’.
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.
— 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.
— aboriginal — being or relating to the first population to inhabit an area. The description of the Australian aboriginal population as such is accurate, but not exclusive. ‘Aboriginal’ does not, at the level of the world, connote a specific race; the aboriginal populations of Europe are white. Compare: native.
— Abyssinia — ሐበሻ « Habäša » — a cultural nation of East Africa, speaking the Ethiopian Semitic dialects, and the region inhabited by that nation. The main extant 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.
— Africa — originally, a cultural-ethnic region on the central coast of the southern Mediterranean, AFRICA (home of the nation known to the Romans as AFRI). By extension, the entire coast of the southern Mediterranean; by further extension, the entire region of the Old World south of the Mediterranean and Red Seas, and one of the conventional continents.
— Albania — Shqipëria — 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 European 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 North Macedonia as well. The use of ‘Albania’ only for one state comes from a time before Kosovo’s independence. For the state: Albania.
— Amazon — Amazonas — a drainage path of South America, flowing primarily eastward from the Andes around the latitude of the Equator, the world’s largest river by volume, and second in length to the Nile. ‘The Amazon’ can also refer to Amazonia.
— Amazonia — Amazônia — the region of the Amazon, either its drainage basin, which is the world’s largest, or the tropical rainforest through which it flows, also the world’s largest. The rainforest is highly important to world ecology, as a locus of biodiversity and also of photosynthesis, and thus for the processing of carbon dioxide and the storage of carbon.
— 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)- « a(n)- », “not” + ΑΡΧ- « ark‛- », “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.
— Anatolia — Anadolu — a peninsula at the eastern end of the Mediterranean, south of the Black Sea, east of the Aegean, north of the Levant. Currently controlled entirely by the state of Turkey (Türkiye), but also inhabited, especially in the southeast, by Kurds. Also called “Asia Minor”; the original region of “Asia” was entirely within western Anatolia.
— Aryans — आर्य « 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 name ‘Aryan’ is from the self-designation of the Indo-Iranian people as a whole, and is cognate with ‘Iran’ (ايران « Ɔīrān »). The adoption of the term ‘Aryan’ by the Nazis was ahistorical.
— Asia — originally, ΑΣΙΑ « Asia », the land to the east from the perspective of the ancient Greeks, thus lying east of the Aegean Sea, generally confined to western Anatolia. By a process of continuous extension, now applied to the entire region of the Old World east of Europe and Africa, and thus the largest of the conventional continents.
— Australasia — any region of the eastern and southern hemispheres that includes the landmass of Australia but is not limited to it, or to the state of Australia (which also includes Tasmania). New Zealand is the most common inclusion; Australia and New Zealand are large, industrialized English settler societies isolated from the rest of the industrialized world. In ecology, Australasia is the ecorealm south and east of the Wallace Line, which cuts through the East Indies and separates Australasia from the Indo-Malay ecorealm.
— autarky — self-sufficiency, as an economy, as a state, or as a person (from Greek ΑΥΤΑΡΚΕΙΑ « autarkeia »: ΑΥΤ- « aut- », “self” + ΑΡΚΕ- « arke- », “suffice”). ‘Autarky’ should not be confused with ‘autarchy’, an uncommon synonym for ‘autocracy’, meaning “rule by one person”; the root of ‘autarchy’ is ΑΡΧ- « ark‛- », “rule”.
— authoritarian — believing strongly in authority, or in the need to obey authority, or advocating obedience to authority. Compare: totalitarian. Authoritarianism can be both a personality trait and a political ideology, often but not always overlapping; an authoritarian personality can be either one who follows authority or one who demands obedience as an authority.
— Azerbaijan — Azərbaycan — 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 (Азәрбайҹан « Azərbaĭ
— Bahrain — البحرين « 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.
— Bangladesh — বাংলাদেশ « 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.
— biome — a type of ecosystem; a generalization of biotic composition, climate, and physical features. Biomes can be more or less specific: forest; rainforest; tropical rainforest. For more: life and ecology.
— 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. For individual species, size alone does not determine what counts as a bug; since insects as a group are considered bugs and lizards as a group are not, there are bugs (such as cicadas) that are bigger than non-bugs (such as nano-chameleons). 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).
— Canadian goose — a bird of the species Branta canadensis. Zoologists (and those following their authority) have often insisted on referring to this species as the “Canada goose”, partially to retain the ability to refer collectively to other geese in or from Canada, but also partially on the dubious claim that ‘Canadian goose’ can only refer generically to a goose in or from Canada. That is, zoologists are making a linguistic claim about the meaning of the modifier ‘Canadian’ versus the modifier ‘Canada’ when applied to geese, which is a claim for which they have no particular authority.
— change spectrum — a continuum of political positioning and tendency based on the question of change relative to the existing conditions of a given society, with liberals favoring change, conservatives opposing change, and other positions more or less extreme. Because these are positions relative to existing conditions, there is no fixed ideological content outside of social context. There are no universal conservative or liberal policies, though there may be universal conservative and liberal mindsets.
— 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 — medium- to long-term, year-on-year conditions of sunlight, temperature, pressure, humidity, and precipitation. Climate allows for seasonal variation, and is stable if the conditions are comparable at comparable times of year. Climate is distinct from weather.
— clinch — secure victory of (a contested matter) while the contest is ongoing. A candidate clinches the presidential nomination of a US political party by winning a majority of delegates before the last primary is held. A sports team clinches a division win by mathematically ensuring the best record before the end of the regular season. It is also valid to say that such a contest has been “won” at the point where victory is mathematically certain; but it is unnecessary to say that a contest has been “clinched” when it is completely over. When the last primary or game has been held, the word for securing victory is ‘win’.
— Colombo — කොළඹ « 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
— colony — originally, a settlement of persons of a particular nation in a place distant and isolated from their nation, but retaining their culture and organizing their new community in isolation. A colony may or may not have retained political ties to (or been under the control of) a state of the originating nation. As the colonization process developed over millennia, the term ‘colony’ came to have other associations, particularly with European imperialism, where so-called “colonies” were less about distant settlements and more about resource extraction and labor exploitation, so that ‘colonization’ now more frequently refers to exploitative imperialism.
— Colorado — a drainage path (Spanish, “reddish”) in western central North America, draining into the Gulf of California. Originally, the name of ‘Colorado’ was applied to the drainage path that begins in the Canyonlands at the confluence of the Green River; the other confluent drainage path was at that time known as the ‘Grand River’ (hence ‘Grand Junction’). The name ‘Colorado’ was later applied to a US territory and subsequent state located partially in the Colorado drainage basin, but containing none of the nominal Colorado River; the state successfully petitioned to extend the official name ‘Colorado River’ upstream from the Green River confluence, along what had been the Grand River.
— Common Era — the period beginning with the year 1. ‘Common Era’ is essentially a euphemism for ‘Christian Era’; the year chosen to be the year 1 was originally believed to be the year of the birth of Jesus. Christians denoted all years as either “BC” (before Christ) or “AD” (Latin ANNO DOMINI, “in the year of the lord”); the corresponding “Common Era” denotations are “BCE” (before the Common Era) and “CE” (Common Era).
— 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. See also: Marxism.
— 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”.
— conformitarian — promoting or supporting conformity as a social policy; expecting or enforcing conformity within society in one or more ways. A conformist is someone who conforms; a conformitarian is someone who expects others to conform.
— consciousness — the subjective experience that results from the combination of thought, memory, and perception, or the ability to have such experience. While consciousness can exist at an altered level (for example, in dreams), it is fundamentally binary; there is no consciousness at all when a mind is sleeping and not dreaming, while wakeful consciousness and dreaming are examples of the same process. As the example of dreams demonstrates, the perceptual realm experienced during consciousness need not be the material realm.
— conspiracism — a tendency to identify nefarious conspiracies as the explanation for various phenomena, particularly social and political realities, based on little to no evidence and often in the face of strong contrary evidence. Genuine nefarious conspiracies exist and have existed, and do in fact explain various social and political realities; conspiracism is distinguished by its disregard for facts.
— constellation — a group of stars that, as seen from Earth, form a recognizable pattern, often interpreted as a common shape for which the stars could reasonably form the framework — mythical persons, animals, artifacts, or the like. Astronomers typically use the term ‘constellation’ for a segment of the celestial sphere defined by one of a select group of constellations, and refer to all other constellations as “asterisms”. Compare: planet.
— 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.
— cosmology — the study of how the universe works, or any system for describing or explaining how the universe works (from Greek ΚΟΣΜ- « kosm- », “orderly whole, universe” + ΛΟΓ- « log- », “reasoned account”). A given cosmology is a specific case of a model. Cosmology is one of the two key features of most religions. Recently ‘cosmology’ has been appropriated by a narrow subfield of physics dealing with the origins and broader structure of the material realm.
— critical — doubting, challenging, or disagreeing with a particular idea, practice, or reality (from Greek ΚΡΙΤ- « krit- », “judge”). The term was adopted by leftists, and especially Marxists, to refer to their own ideological tendencies, specifically critical of capitalism; it has since become used in self-reference as a euphemism for ‘leftist’ or ‘Marxist’, including by those whose attachment to leftist or Marxist ideas is decidedly uncritical, or doctrinaire.
— crypt(o)- — hidden; covertly (from Greek ΚΡΥΠΤ- « krupt- », “hide”). As a prefix, ‘crypt(o)-’ indicates that what seems not to be true is in fact true; “crypto-x” seems not to be x but is x. Compare: pseud(o)-, quasi-.
— cyclone — a storm in the lower atmosphere consisting of air rotating at high speed around a low-pressure, moving center, bringing with it high winds, especially such a storm forming over water in the tropics, and therefore bringing severe thunderstorms. Meteorologists use a variety of terms for cyclones, depending on arbitrary categories of wind speed, and, at the highest speed, local tradition. In order of increasing speed, the lower categories are, roughly, “tropical disturbance”, “tropical depression”, and “tropical storm”. The highest-speed category is variously known as “hurricane” (Atlantic and eastern Pacific), “typhoon” (northwest Pacific), “cyclone” or “tropical cyclone” (Indian and southwest Pacific).
— Cyprus — Κύπρος « Kupros » (Greek) / Kıbrıs (Turkish) — a landmass in the eastern Mediterranean, just south of Anatolia. 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.
— decimate — originally, punish by executing one tenth of (from Latin DECIMARE). This punishment was used on occasion in military units of the Roman republic and empire; units subjected to decimation were divided into groups of ten individuals, where one member was chosen by lot and executed by the other nine. The modern meaning of “destroy completely” is dramatically different in scope, though perhaps reflective of the horrific nature of the original practice.
— Delhi — दिल्ली « 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.
— doab — दोआब « 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 »).
— Donbass — Донбасс « 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.
— dream — an experience taking place during sleep in an ad hoc perceptual realm, in a state of semi-consciousness. Neuroscientists have concluded that dreams happen during rapid-eye-movement (REM) sleep, prompting many of them and others to treat the two as equivalent, and thus to say that a body engaged in REM sleep is dreaming, whether the person remembers a dream or not. In fact, the term ‘dream’ exists to describe the subjective experience, not the neurological process, so the only dreams that can be known to exist are those that the subject remembers.
— East Indies — a group of landmasses between the Old World and Australia. Many of these are among the largest and most populous in the world, including Java (Jawa), Luzon (Kalusunan), Sumatra (Sumatera), Borneo (Kalimantan), Mindanao (Mindanaw), Sulawesi, and New Guinea (Papua); New Guinea is the furthest east landmass that is commonly included in the group, though the Bismarck Archipelago and the Solomon Islands (Solomon Ailans) are essentially continuous. Politically the group is divided among several independent states: Indonesia, the Philippines (Pilipinas), Malaysia, Papua New Guinea (Papua-Niugini), Singapore (新加坡 « Śin1 Ka5 P‛o5 »), East Timor (Timór Loro Sae), and Brunei (with Solomon Islands, depending on definition). Nearly all of the dialects spoken in the East Indies are of the Malayo-Polynesian branch of the Austronesian family. The predominant religion is Islam, with Roman Catholicism predominant in the Philippines. The western portion of the East Indies falls under the Indo-Asian cultural sphere, due to an earlier spread of Hinduism; the entirety was ruled in the colonial era by Western European states (Britain, the Netherlands, Spain, Portugal). Also called “the Indies”, and identical, in world-regional terms, to insular Southeast Asia.
— ecorealm — a large region of species relatedness, in which species are more closely related to each other, despite superficial differences, than they are to species of other ecorealms, despite superficial similarities. Trees, for example, evolved independently (through parallel evolution) to fill ecological niches in different parts of the world; trees are more closely related to the other plants in their ecorealms than they are to trees in other ecorealms. Ecorealms can be identified for animals alone or plants alone, but also for plants and animals combined. The usual ecorealms for plants and animals combined are Nearctic, Neotropical, Palearctic, Afrotropical, Indo-Malay, Australasian, Oceanic, and Antarctic. For more: life and ecology.
— ecosystem — a specific region defined by the extent of one or more biological or environmental features in a particular location, within which the organisms, climate, and physical features are understood to interact systematically and, for the organisms, symbiotically. Ecosystems are identified heuristically; any given location could be a part of multiple ecosystems, depending on how they were defined and for what purposes they were identified. A common feature used to define an ecosystem is the dominant organism, especially a plant, thus forests and grasslands are broad types of ecosystems (or biomes), while specific forests (the Amazon and Congo rainforests) and grasslands (the Great Plains, the steppe) are ecosystems. Ecosystems can be defined broadly or narrowly, such that a narrowly-defined ecosystem can exist within a broadly-defined ecosystem. For more: life and ecology.
— endorse — speak well of; attest to the virtues of; support. In modern US political and commercial discourse, “endorsement” is usually treated as a performative statement in which a well-known person publicly declares exclusive support for a candidate, campaign, or product.
— 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.
— euphemism — a term (word or phrase) used in place of another term, typically on the belief that the first term is offensive in some way — obscene, profane, prejudiced (racist, sexist, et cetera). There is also a category of euphemism in which the original term is not definably offensive, but deemed inadequate in some way; a second term is introduced as a supposed improvement, and the original term becomes offensive simply because it does not render the improvement (this is notably prevalent within identitarianism; for example, ‘Latino’ versus ‘Hispanic’ and ‘African-American’ versus ‘black’). The process that leads to the creation of euphemisms typically continues, with new euphemisms replacing old euphemisms in time.
— 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.
— faith — belief without evidence. Whereas ‘superstition’ is commonly a derogatory, ‘faith’ is embraced by its practioners. And though the idea of belief without evidence is defended, at the same time its implications, like irrationality, are denied. (‘Faith’ has other, related meanings; as in the expression ‘keep faith’, it can mean “trust”, and as a discrete noun, as in ‘a faith’, it is used as a synonym for ‘religion’.)
— Falklands — a group of landmasses off the east coast of the southern tip of the New World, the two largest by far being East Falkland and West Falkland. The main city is Stanley, on the eastern coast of East Falkland. The population consists primarily of British citizens descended from British settlers, with a primarily-British culture. The Falklands, apparently uninhabited before colonization by the French and British in the 1760s, have been controlled by Britain since 1833, when it acted on its existing claim vis-à-vis the nascent Argentine state, then recently independent from Spain and attempting to claim the mostly-vacant lands; the military régime in Argentina attempted to conquer the Falklands in 1982 but was defeated after a two-month occupation.
— feminism — the belief that females should be socially equal to males, or the ideology that promotes such equality; more broadly, the ideology that promotes the interests and social advancement of women and girls. The term ‘feminism’ has also more recently been appropriated by believers in a Marxist or cultural Marxist ideology that shares some concerns of broader feminism but insists on a far-left orthodoxy on issues not obviously connected to women’s and girls’ rights or interests.
— Fergana Valley — Farg‘ona Vodiysi (Uzbek) / Водии Фарғона « Vodii Farğona » (Tajik) / Фергана Өрөөнү « Fergana Öröönü » (Kyrgyz) — a populous and fertile lowland of central Asia, through which the Syr Darya flows, after its formation in the eastern end of the valley by the confluence of the Naryn River and the Kara Darya. Surrounding the valley to the north, east, and south are local mountain ranges of the Tian Shan and Pamir-Alai complexes — the Kuramin, Chatkal, Fergana, Alai, and Turkestan Ranges. The valley is currently divided among three states: Uzbekistan controls most of the valley floor, Tajikistan controls the mouth of the valley in the west, and Kyrgyzstan controls the highlands and foothills surrounding the valley. The city of Fergana (Фергана « Fergana » (Russian) / Farg‘ona (Uzbek) / Фарғона « Farğona » (Tajik)) was named after the valley, not the reverse.
— Fertile Crescent — a region of the ancient Near East, consisting of an arc along the eastern Mediterranean, across the northern Levant on the southern edge of Anatolia, and down the entirety of Mesopotamia. The Fertile Crescent was one of the early locales for the domestication of plants, and Mesopotamia was one of the earliest civilizations, and ultimately the most influential. The Fertile Crescent as a whole was an important location and crossroads for cultural, economic, and political activity in the ancient world, particularly through the Sumerians and the Semites.
— fetish — an object, especially an artificial object, believed to have supernatural powers. By extension, an object, not generally associated with sexuality, that provokes sexual arousal in a person. By further extension, an instance of sexual fetishism, which is a tendency toward arousal by a specific non-sexual object, or ultimately any sexual interest other than the very common.
— fish — an aquatic vertebrate (an animal with a backbone) that is not a tetrapod (amphibian, reptile, or mammal); more broadly, an aquatic animal, whether vertebrate or invertebrate, that does not belong to a partially-arbitrary assortment of other categories (tetrapods, plankton, etc.). Fish are a conventional class, not a clade, since the only common ancestor shared by all fish is the one shared by all vertebrates, including tetrapods. In fact, the exclusion of aquatic tetrapods (such as whales and dolphins) from the vernacular class of fish is a relatively-recent product of scientific education. A number of marine invertebrates are still nominally ‘fish’ (for example, starfish and jellyfish), and some biologists have recently introduced alternate names for them, even though the exclusion of these invertebrates would still not produce a cladistic definition for ‘fish’.
— forensic — of or for a court of law. Recent usage is generally restricted to describing one particular forensic matter, the use of science and technology to prove a case in a court of law, or, tangentially, the use of science and technology to investigate crime, and by extension, the use of similar science and technology for investigations in general.
— fruit — originally, anything produced by a plant and used by humans. By extension, a conventional category of edible plant matter. Most members of this conventional category fall into a much-larger biological category: an organ of a flowering plant that develops from the ovary and bears the seeds of the plant. Botanists, predictably, have appropriated the term ‘fruit’ to refer to this biological category alone, leading to claims that that other members of the biological category, such as tomatoes, edible nuts, and squashes, are actually fruits. The conventional sense remains the most common, though, and excludes these other plant products. Compare: vegetable, nut.
— Ganges — गंगा « Gãgā » — a drainage path in historical India, flowing eastward across the Indo-Gangetic Plain to the Bay of Bengal. The Ganges forms the northern boundary of the Doab. The river is an important site for rituals in Hinduism, and thus frequently described as “sacred”.
— gender — originally, the biological category of sex. By extension, a grammatical category of nouns based on the sex of animals, and denoted as ‘feminine’ and ‘masculine’, but applied to non-sexual things as well, and sometimes including a neuter gender. In recent decades, among a small Anglophone subculture, the term ‘gender’ has been restricted to human social categories originally based on sex, so that “female” and “male” humans are those who identify with traditionally-female and -male social roles or behavior, respectively. This restricted sense has not spread to the majority of English speakers. For more: sex and gender.
— genocide — the elimination or attempted elimination of a kind of people, with the intention that it should no longer exist (from Greek ΓΕΝΟΣ « genos » “kind, race” + French -cide, “killing”). Mass murder is one means of genocide, but forced or planned assimilation is also a form of genocide. Genocide is thus distinct from both mass murder and ethnic cleansing, as well as accidental mass death.
— Germany — Deutschland / Düütschland — 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.
— Gibraltar — a mountain ridge on a small peninsula on the southern coast of Iberia (from Arabic جبل طارق « Ĝabal Tāriq », “mountain of Tariq”), now generally known as ‘the Rock of Gibraltar’. By extension, the city at the base of the ridge, and the political division of Britain based on the peninsula.
— 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. For more: climate change.
— god — a force or being posited as an explanation for a natural phenomenon not otherwise explained in a given cosmology. While many gods are anthropomorphized, this is not an essential characteristic. Even less essential are the various characteristics of the monotheistic god of Judaism, and Christianity and Islam by extension — a personal god who created and governs the universe, and is omniscient and omnipotent.
— grass — a plant of the family Poaceae, characterized by intermediate height and ground-level growth, and the dominant plant of certain ecosystems (grasslands) throughout the world. The primary staple grains of the human diet since the development of agriculture — wheat, rice, maize, millet, rye, oats, barley — are all grasses.
— Great Basin — a region in North America where surface 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 region and a cultural region in approximately the same location, but with different extents.
— Great Plains — an expansive, flat lowland, originally a grassland, of North America, west of the Mississippi and east of the Rocky Mountains (at right, center of image, in blue-gray). The Great Plains is the namesake of a distinctive pre-Columbian material culture, the Plains culture, which crossed linguistic lines. Much of the Great Plains has been converted from its original ecosystem to agricultural land.
— Greater Caribbean — an inlet of the ocean along the central-eastern New World, enclosed by the West Indies and the Florida peninsula, conventionally divided into the Gulf of Mexico, lying north of the Greater Antilles, and the Caribbean Sea, lying south. Also called the “American Mediterranean”, so named by analogy to the original Mediterranean.
— 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. For more: climate change.
— 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.
— Hawaii — Hawai‘i — a landmass in the central Pacific Ocean, now generally called ‘the Island of Hawaii’ or, locally, ‘the Big Island’. By extension, the group of landmasses extending to its northwest, and by further extension any of the political units based on this archipelago, including an independent state, and now a state of the United States. The name ‘Hawai‘i’ descends from the native name for the Polynesian homeland, reconstructed as *Sawaiki.
— heuristic — identified subjectively based on experience, or relating to such an identification, and thus not based on a precise empirical definition. The experience on which the judgement is made may itself be empirical, though. The value of a heuristic judgement generally rises with the experience of the person making it, but, being made without a precise definition, the judgement may be influenced by prejudice or convention.
— Hijaz — الحجاز « 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.
— Hispaniola — Ispayola / Española — a landmass in the Greater Caribbean, the second-largest, and one of the Greater Antilles. The landmass has long been divided between two states, Haiti (Ayisi) and the Dominican Republic (República Dominicana). Haiti lies to the west and has the greater population; the Dominican lies to the east and has the greater land area.
— 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.
— Iberia — a peninsula in Europe (from Latin HIBERVS / IBERVS, “Ebro River”), separated from the rest of Europe by the Pyrenees. By extension, a cultural subregion of the Romance world with the same extent, whose Spanish and Portuguese components have been spread globally, particularly to the New World. An identical Latin name ‘IBERIA’, but with a different etymology, was also applied in ancient times to various regions in the western Caucasus.
— identitarian — of or pertaining to identity. The term is especially relevant now to describe an ideology viewing individuals as composites of their various “identities” — race, sex or gender, religion, sexuality, and the like — and interpreting society as determined by these identities. Such identitarians believe that identity is heavily responsible for beliefs and actions, that identity is an important factor in determining whether a stated view is valid and worth listening to and whether an action is defensible, and that those with more disadvantaged identities are more admirable. The use of ‘identity’ in identitarian ideology is logically inconsistent; some identities are acquired entirely through self-identification, while some are inherent. There is a noteworthy contrast between sex/gender identity and racial identity; of the two, sex/gender is more solidly based on an empirical reality, while race is more of a social construct, and yet in the identitarian view, sex/gender identity is not fixed and can be changed at will, while racial identity is heavily constrained by biology and upbringing, so that transgender identification is broadly celebrated and transracial identification is broadly condemned.
— 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, Bill Clinton, and Donald Trump 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, or children in general; 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.
— Indo-Gangetic Plain — an expansive lowland (in the lightest green, center-top in the image at right) across northern India, through which the Indus and Ganges Rivers flow. The Indo-Gangetic Plain is one of the world’s primary concentrations of population, historically and presently, owing to its fertility, and the origin of Indian civilization and Indo-Asian culture.
— Indus — سندھ « Sindh » / سنڌو « Sind‛ū » / सिंधु « Sĩd‛u » — a drainage path in historical India. The Indus flows southward through the western end of the Indo-Gangetic Plain, starting in Punjab, which is defined by the Indus and its tributaries. Most names for the Indus (including in English) come ultimately from an Indo-Iranian word for “river”. The name of the Indus, in turn, is the source of the name for India in many dialects, including native dialects, as well as the source for the name of the Sindh region of Pakistan. (The immediate source of ‘India’ is the Greek name for the river, ΙΝΔΟΣ « Indos ». The « Hind- » root is Iranian, as in Old Persian 𐏃𐎡𐎯𐎢𐏁 « H-i-du-u-š », “India”, and was borrowed back into Indo-Aryan dialects during the period of Mughal rule.)
— institution — a role, or a relationship or set of relationships among roles. An institution can be a form of interest group, depending on its component roles. Institutions can be for a variety of conventional purposes; churches, businesses, and street gangs are all institutions. For more: society.
— irony — a contrast between expectation and reality, or the creation of such a contrast. Irony is the basis of most or possibly all humor. A common form of irony is to state the opposite of what the speaker believes, either to convey the truth emphatically, or to ridicule a belief in its opposite. It has become common in modern English to describe this form of irony primarily with the word ‘sarcasm’, which originally applied to any caustic commentary.
— 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.
— Java — Jawa — 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 (Basa Jawa), Sundanese (Basa Sunda), and Madurese (Basa Madura), all relatives of Malay.
— jihadism — a global movement within Islam promoting and engaging in armed conflict, including terrorism, against perceived enemies of the religion (from Arabic جهاد « ĝihād », “struggle”). Most jihadism is Sunni, and above all Salafist, and its targets include Shiites and other Muslim minorities, apostate Muslims, Jews, Christians, the West more broadly, Hindus, modernists, liberals, atheists, and sexual minorities.
— 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.
— Kashmir — كٲشُر « Kāširŭ » — a valley on the western edge of the Himalaya, defined on the southwest by the Pir Panjal range, and controlled by the Indian state; now generally called ‘the Vale of Kashmir’. The main city is Srinagar (سِری نَگَر « Sirī Nagar »). By extension, a region (كشمير « Kašmīr » (Urdu) / कश्मीर « Kaśmīr » (Hindi)) of South Asia surrounding this valley, and divided politically among the Indian, Pakistani, and Chinese states. By further extension, any of several political units based in this region: Jammu and Kashmir (जम्मू और कश्मीर «
— Kenya — Kĩrĩnyaga (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.
— 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.
— liberalism — the condition of human freedom (from Latin LIBER-, “free”), in which individual rights are protected and promoted, or the ideology favoring such freedom, however conceived, also called classical liberalism. By extension, a political tendency to favor change, relative to a given society (see change spectrum). By further extension, any ideology whose components represent change relative to a given society.
— libertarian — relating to, concerned with, or favoring liberty, or human freedom. ‘Libertarian’ is thus in origin a synonym for ‘liberal’ in the classical sense. In modern US discourse, though, it tends to be strongly coupled with the idea of property rights, often more so than civil liberties, such that illiberal ideologies and politicians who happen to favor property rights are self-described and characterized by others as “libertarians”.
— literal — to the letter; exactly as written or stated. A broader meaning of ‘literal’ is “true”; like other words and phrases with that approximate meaning (for example, ‘actual’, ‘real’), ‘literal’ and its adverbial form ‘literally’ are frequently employed to emphasize. A statement like “I am going to kill you.” would generally be taken metaphorically (so, “I am angry with you.”); the statement “I am literally going to kill you.” could theoretically mean that the statement is not to be taken metaphorically, but generally means instead that the metaphorical meaning should be taken more seriously (“I am angry with you.” → “I am very angry with you.”). It is often stated, quite erroneously, that the word ‘literally’ is now used to mean “figuratively”. The emphatic sense of ‘literally’ is a figurative sense, but it does not mean “figuratively”, because the substitution of the word ‘figuratively’ changes the meaning of any such statement (“I am figuratively going to kill you.” is decidedly unemphatic).
— logo — a distinctive arrangement of all or part of an organization’s name, sometimes accompanied by other text, in a particular typeface or typefaces and often a particular color scheme, used to identify the organization (short for ‘logotype’, from Greek ΛΟΓΟΣ « logos », “word” + ΤΥΠΟΣ « tupos », “mark”). A logo by definition contains writing; it is therefore not the same as a pictorial or abstract symbol used to represent an organization.
— Louisiana — Louisiane — originally, a territory claimed by France occupying much of the Mississippi drainage basin, but not all. When France was forced to give its territorial claims east of the river to Britain at the end of the Seven Years’ War in 1763, the name was applied to a smaller territory that was then nearly identical to the western Mississippi basin (that is, the drainage basin west of the river itself), and France’s claims to it were ceded at that time to Spain. The European claim to this territory was later returned to France, and in 1803 sold to the United States. Following common US practice, the first state created from this large territory, along the lower Mississippi, took the name of the territory as a whole, so the term ‘Louisiana’ is now generally confined to this much-smaller state.
— Macaronesia — a group of landmasses in the Atlantic Ocean just off the coast of the Old World (from Greek ΜΑΚΑΡ- « makar- », “blessed” + ΝΗΣ- « nēs- », “island”, from the mythical ΜΑΚΑΡΩΝ ΝΗΣΟΙ « Makarōn Nēsoi », “Islands of the Blessed”, eventually supposed to lie in the same approximate location). Most of the group falls into four smaller groups of landmasses: the Azores (Açores), Madeira, the Canaries (Canarias), and Cape Verde (Kabu Verdi).
— Macedonia — Μακεδονία « 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 (now officially North Macedonia), and a country based on that state; (2) a modern province of the Greek state, at the southern end of the broader region. For the Slavic state: North Macedonia.
— 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.
— mansplaining — the process, or an instance, of a man explaining something to a woman that she knows better than he does, or perhaps is an expert in. More loosely, the process, or an instance, of a man explaining something to a woman in what she perceives to be a condescending manner. The early use of the term is thought to have been inspired by (but not used in) a 2008 essay by Rebecca Solnit which relates a story of a man trying to explain her own book to her; the term itself was apparently first used pseudonymously in internet comments. The term has since come to be used by some women and men for any instance of a man explaining something to a woman, even when an imbalance of knowledge might be presumed to favor the man. A rigorous adoption of this view would effectively mean that men and women could not participate in the same intellectual discussions, which would be a setback for the cause of women’s equality.
— Marxism — originally, the views and ideology of Karl Marx, including but not limited to his version of communism. The loose adoption of Marxism by various revolutionaries, and the even-looser implementation of Marxism by successful revolutionaries in Russia and China once in government, gave rise to a newer usage of ‘Marxism’ for ideologies and practices better described as Leninism (after Владимир Ленин « Vladimir Lenin »), Stalinism (after Иосиф Сталин « Iosif Stalin »), or Maoism (after Mao Zedong, 毛澤東 « Mau35 Cə35 Tuŋ5 »). Some of Marx’s views, particularly with regard to power, gave rise to modern ideologies referred to as ‘Marxism’, but concerned with matters far afield of Marx’s focus on economics, and thus sometimes described as cultural Marxism. The proliferation of “Marxisms” of various sorts, and their significant divergence from the actual works of Marx, have necessitated a retroactive distinction between Marxian views, directly advocated by Marx, and Marxist views, from any of the later ideologies.
— material realm — a self-contained, substantial world operating according to physical laws, and through which material objects interact; a physical “universe”. In materialism, the present, dominant perceptual realm is presumed to be a material realm.
— materialism — a belief system that presumes the reality of the perceptual realm — that our perceptions indicate an underlying substantial (material) reality as well. Materialism is a nearly-universal belief system, and therefore exists alongside the other major belief systems commonly called “religions”. Materialism is the primary postulate of modern science, and, along with the scientific method, the basis of all its conclusions. Present materialism holds that the material realm comprises space-time in which particles of twelve fundamental types (six types of quark, six types of lepton) interact systematically with each other by means of four basic forces (gravity, electromagnetism, and the weak and strong nuclear forces), sometimes facilitated by their own fundamental particles; this is the Standard Model of physics. All other fields of science describe complex, systematic interactions that ultimately can be explained in terms of the Standard Model.
— Mediterranean — an inlet of the ocean, the Mediterranean Sea, in the northwest of the Old World, the traditional boundary between Europe and Africa (from Latin MEDITERRANE-, “in the middle of the land”, from MEDI-, “middle” + TERR-, “land”). For all of recorded history, the Mediterranean has united, rather than divided, the surrounding coasts, particularly through the actions of the seafaring Phoenicians, Greeks, and Romans, who traded, colonized, and conquered throughout the Mediterranean. ‘Mediterranean’ accordingly can describe the elements of common culture (particularly material culture) that have developed in the basin. The Mediterranean also has a distinctive climate, so ‘Mediterranean’ also describes both that climate and a biome, primarily existing on west- and south-facing coasts in the lower temperate latitudes adjacent to cold water currents; being relatively small, isolated from each other, and distinct from their surroundings, Mediterranean ecosystems are notable contributors to world biodiversity. Finally, the term ‘mediterranean’ is sometimes used generically to describe any similar inlet of the ocean mostly surrounded by land or landmasses, such as the American Mediterranean.
— Melanesia — a region on a group of landmasses in the southwestern Pacific Ocean, including New Guinea and a number of smaller landmasses to its east (from Greek ΜΕΛΑΝ- « melan- », “black” + ΝΗΣ- « nēs- », “island”). While first identified as a counterpart to Polynesia and Micronesia, it has nothing like the cultural coherence of Polynesia or, to a lesser extent, Micronesia, and was identified primarily by proximity or race. Dialects from various indigenous languages families are spoken; English creoles are used as the lingua franca in much of the region.
— meme — an idea that spreads within a culture (coined by Richard Dawkins in 1976 from Greek ΜΙΜΗΜΑ « mimēma », “copy, imitated thing”). Often applied to a very specific kind of meme, otherwise known as an “image macro”, in which a recognizable image is combined with original text following a set pattern, usually as a joke.
— Mesopotamia — the region of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, particularly in the ancient period of the Near East (from Greek ΜΕΣΟΠΟΤΑΜΙΑ « Mesopotamia », “in the middle of the rivers”). As the location of Sumer and its successor Semitic cultures, Mesopotamia was the home of the oldest civilization, and ultimately the most influential, through the expansion of European and Islamic government and culture.
— mestizo — belonging to a population (from Spanish, “mixed”) of the Hispanophone New World descended from both Europeans and Native Americans, typically in the beginning the offspring of a Spanish man and a Native American woman. Modern mestizos are, of course, descended primarily from other mestizos.
— 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.
— Micronesia — a loose cultural region on a group of landmasses along and north of the Equator in the western Pacific Ocean (from Greek ΜΙΚΡ- « mikr- », “small” + ΝΗΣ- « nēs- », “island”). The indigenous dialects are part of the Austronesian family, most of them belonging to a Micronesian subfamily. An independent state within the cultural region, officially the Federated States of Micronesia, is also referred to as ‘Micronesia’. For the state: Federated States of Micronesia.
— 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.
— model — a set of beliefs about a reality that is used to engage with that reality — an understanding of the reality that guides decisions about how to interact with it. This reality can be conceptual or perceptual. A set of beliefs used in this way counts as a model whether those beliefs are accurate or not. While individuals will generally have their own models for each reality they interact with, those models will often have much in common with the models others use to interact with the same realities; those common beliefs constitute a model as well, simply more general. A cosmology is a model of the universe, or any perceptual realm conceived as such. Many models, and most cosmologies, are simplifications. A model is a mental version of what is happening in the world; if the reality is itself simple, it is possible to have a complete and accurate model. This would be the case for a model of a limited aspect of a complex larger reality. It would also be possible for persons to have complete and accurate models of certain virtual realities, including but not limited to the authors of the virtual reality. For the material realm as a whole, only a simplified cosmology is possible. Compare: narrative.
— 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. The use of ‘absolute monarchy’ is usually reserved for those dictatorships that are hereditary, but there are historical and modern hereditary dictatorships that are not typically labelled as “monarchies” (North Korea and Syria, for example), and “monarchies” that are not hereditary (certain ancient kingships, for instance). 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 and Nepal) to the reclaiming or attempted reclaiming of that power. For more: government.
— moral panic — a social phenomenon in which a particular social ill, which may exist in real life or may not, is imagined to exist at great intensity or frequency, often more intense or frequent than can realistically be true, prompting a disproportionate or completely-unwarranted response, including drastic remedies and exaggerated or false accusations, with accusers running out of control and innocent individuals accused and punished. The classic example of a moral panic is the Salem witch trials of 1692-3 in the colony of Massachusetts Bay, in which hundreds of people were accused of witchcraft, and tens of people, mostly women, were killed, primarily by hanging. ‘Witchcraft’ would have described both unorthodox religious practices and supernatural acts, with the accused being largely innocent of the former and obviously completely innocent of the latter. The subjects of moral panics are generally indicative of the concerns and obsessions of a society at the time. Recent moral panics in the United States have centered on supposed communism, drug use, youth violence, Satanism, child molestation, child abduction, sex trafficking, terrorism, and, especially of late, racism and white supremacy.
— Mozambique — Moçambique — 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.
— Najd — نجد « 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 »).
— narrative — a description of any conceptual or perceptual reality, independent of whether any person believes it, used to influence the engagement of others with that reality. Narratives, like models, are often simplifications. A narrative is like a model in content. The difference is that belief in a narrative is irrelevant. Those who use a narrative may believe in its accuracy, they may be indifferent to its accuracy, or they may be aware of its inaccuracy, but find value in projecting it to others — to fool others into believing the narrative, or to fool others into believing that the users believe the narrative.
— native — of or from birth; from or originating in a place (from Latin NAT-, “birth”). With individual humans, a native of a place is anyone born there. In ecological terms, the human species is native only to eastern Africa. Smaller populations of humans could loosely be said to be native to an area if their separate existence as a group originated there, but determining this is made difficult or impossible by migration, the various ways of identifying nations, the lack of clear boundaries between evolutionary stages of culture, and the difficulties of tracing nations prior to the historical record. Instead, the term ‘native’ applied to groups refers either to aboriginal populations (such as Native Americans), or any group that was present in an area before a certain reference group (such as the black population in colonial Africa from the perspective of the white population, even those whites born in Africa). ‘Indigenous’ is essentially interchangeable with ‘native’.
— 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’.
— Nile — النيل « ɔal-Nīl » / 𓎛𓂝𓊪𓏭𓈘 « Hcpj″(water) » / 𓇋𓏏𓂋𓅱𓈘 « Jtrŭ(water) » — a drainage path of the Old World, flowing northward to the Mediterranean Sea, probably the longest drainage path in the world. The region of the Nile is the traditional definition of Egypt.
— 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, lightest green, 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.
— Novorossiya — Новороссия « 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 administered as a part of 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.
— nut — a member of a conventional category of edible plant seeds; nuts tend to be relatively hard and dense, oily, and contained in a shell. Botanists have appropriated the term ‘nut’ to refer to the seed and shell collectively, therefore falling into their technical category of ‘fruit’. Compare: fruit, vegetable.
— 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 (Asia, Africa, Europe) 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.
— organization — a structured relationship among persons. It may or may not be an institution. An organization can have roles even if it is not an institution; what makes an organization non-institutional is that is it not composed entirely of roles. For more: society.
— 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.
— Palestine — פלשת « Pəlešet » (Hebrew) / فلسطين « Filastīn » (Arabic) — 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.
— percept — a direct object of perception. The direct objects of vision are patterns of colors and shapes; the direct objects of hearing are patterns of pitch and volume. Even from a materialist point of view, percepts are thus distinct from the material objects we are indirectly perceiving (rocks, trees, chairs), as well as the transmission media that induce these percepts (light, sound waves).
— perceptual realm — a self-contained world accessible through perception. In materialism, a particular perceptual realm (the world of everyday perception) is taken to be substantial and thus the “real” world. Programmed worlds in virtual reality, though, are also perceptual realms, and every dream exists in a distinct perceptual realm.
— performative — performing; of or relative to performance. ‘Performative’ has long been used in linguistics to describe speech or writing with a reality-altering power; a performative statement is one which, by its mere utterance, creates or effects a particular reality (for example, “I now pronounce you man and wife.”). But as the adjective form of ‘perform’, ‘performative’ is now popularly used to describe actions (including speech) done as a public performance, as for attention or to create a particular public impression. The latter sense is no less “correct”, even when applied to speech, and indeed reflects a more common use of ‘perform’.
— -phobia — fear, especially excessive or irrational fear, often implied to be a psychological disorder (as a suffix; from Greek -ΦΟΒΙΑ « -p‛obia », from ΦΟΒΟΣ « p‛obos », “fear”). Recently ‘-phobia’ has been used to form linguistically-questionable terms for hate. ‘Homophobia’ etymologically means, approximately, “fear of the same”, but was coined to mean “hatred of homosexuality”. ‘Transphobia’ etymologically means “fear of what lies across”, but was coined by analogy to mean “hatred of transgender persons”. ‘Islamophobia’ means “fear of Islam”, but is used to mean “hatred of Muslims”. All three have come to be applied quite loosely (see also: racism), for any belief or action that indicates disagreement with or disapproval of a particular view of gays, transgender persons, or Muslims. ‘Islamophobia’ in particular has been employed to stifle criticism of Islam as a set of beliefs, rather than actual bigotry towards Muslims.
— 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 by astronomers 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 by a subset of astronomers once again, to apply to a select group of directly-orbiting bodies with specific qualities chosen primarily to limit the number of “planets”. Compare: constellation.
— Polynesia — a cultural region on a group of landmasses in the Pacific Ocean (from Greek ΠΟΛΥ- « polu- », “many” + ΝΗΣ- « nēs- », “island”), roughly consisting of a “Triangle” with vertices at Hawai‘i, New Zealand (Aotearoa), and Easter Island (Rapa Nui). Polynesian is a single linguistic group within the Austronesian family; descendant dialects are spoken by the aboriginal peoples throughout Polynesia (though not quite by all aboriginal peoples in the Polynesian Triangle). The Polynesian expansion (from a homeland referred to natively as *Sawaiki) followed the development of sophisticated seafaring technology, and Polynesia previously extended even further. In some of the original Polynesian subregions, especially Hawai‘i and New Zealand, the aboriginals are now a minority.
— prodigy — a person with exceptional abilities or powers, typically with reference to one specific area. A child who is precociously talented in a specific area is frequently called a ‘child prodigy’. As the word ‘prodigy’ is now rarely used outside of that expression, many speakers have come to understand ‘prodigy’ as equivalent to ‘child prodigy’, and thus inherently young and precocious. Compare: transit; turf.
— product — something created that is desirable or valuable to at least one person. The creation of products can include their manufacture, but it can also include the conversion of potential resources (such as “natural resources”) into personal or institutional resources. Economists typically divide products into “goods” (physical objects) and “services” (actions); some products, however, are apparently both, or not clearly one or the other. For more: economics.
— property spectrum — a continuum of political positioning and tendency based on the question of property rights, with one end of the continuum supporting the absolute right to the control and use of private property, and one end favoring the abolition of private property (see communism). This spectrum is often imagined as a left-right line, with the property-rights position being to the right, but this usage differs notably from the change spectrum, where the left-right line describes openness to change relative to society.
— Prussia — Prūsa (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 Germanized 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 »).
— pseud(o)- — false; falsely (from Greek ΨΕΥΔ- « pseud- », “false”). As a prefix, ‘pseud(o)-’ indicates that what seems to be true is in fact not true; “pseudo-x” seems to be x but is not x. Compare: crypt(o)-, quasi-.
— Punjab — پنجاب « Panĝāb » / ਪੰਜਾਬ « Pã
— 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.
— quasi- — seemingly; approximately (from Latin QVASI, “almost”). As a prefix, ‘quasi-’ indicates the state an object appears to be in, without taking a position on whether the appearance is accurate; “quasi-x” seems to be x but may or may not be x. Compare: crypt(o)-, pseud(o)-.
— race — a clade within a species or subspecies. Within humans, a race is therefore a population with a common biological descent. Such populations are not always reproductively self-contained; many were, or were closer to being, in the past, when travel and migration were limited, but reproduction across races has been more common in some environments and less in others. Historiographically, a race can be any ethnic nation. In other discourse, ‘race’ is used distinctly based on context. In global or generic contexts, a race is an ethnic population on the broadest scale, especially one of the three largest ethnic populations, originating in the pre-global era in eastern Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, and western/southern Eurasia, and known to traditional physical anthropology by the (now-deprecated) terms ‘Mongoloid’, ‘Negroid’, and ‘Caucasoid’, respectively. In a society-specific context, a race is an ethnic population relevant to that society and its history, involving, for example, migration, conquest, or slavery. Distinguishing physical characteristics can be an element of race, but this is far from universal. Culture often accompanies race in a society-specific context, but culture alone does not determine race; two populations distinguished, for example, just by religion are not different races. Race as a general matter is not a social construct; humans are the result of empirically-different lines of biological descent. But which ethnic populations we choose to identify and focus on is a matter of social convention.
— racism — prejudice based on race, usually (but not always) negative prejudice. Because the term has powerful connotations, ‘racism’ is now applied more loosely, to beliefs or actions with a racial aspect and some negative consequence, or even with no apparent racial aspect but negative consequences differentiated by race; all of this is far removed from the original sense. Prejudice based on culture is not racism; for example, anti-Muslim bigotry is not racism because Muslims are not a race. Conversely, prejudice against Jews often is racism, because it is directed against Jews whether they believe in Judaism or not; notably, the hatred of Jews by the Nazis seems to have been driven primarily by ideas of race, not culture. Again because the term has powerful connotations, some on the political left insist on reserving ‘racism’ only for prejudice (or inadvertent negative consequences) against groups they deem as underprivileged or oppressed.
— rationalism — the ideology or practice of forming beliefs and making decisions through the careful application of reason. Rationalism is thus a rejection, in part or in whole, of tradition, faith, and religion. Rationalism is a method, not a result; it reduces the possibility of error but does not guarantee the complete elimination of it. Rationalism is a key foundation of liberalism and empiricism. Interpreting ‘rationalism’ as a reference to any one theorist’s belief set is generally a gross misunderstanding, since adhering in total to the belief set of any given theorist is contrary to rationalism itself.
— 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.
— relativism — an outlook or ideology which views truth as dependent on context or environment, and consequently rejects the idea of independent or objective truth. Most commonly, an outlook or ideology which views morality as dependent on culture, in this sense also called “moral relativism” or “cultural relativism”. In this view, there is no absolute or universal right and wrong. A relativist might condemn an act as immoral when committed in one cultural environment or by the product of one culture, but excuse the same act when committed in a different cultural environment or by the product of a different culture. In the past, this has frequently meant judging acts within other cultures more harshly; in the present, it often means judging one’s own culture more harshly.
— 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 (generally traceable to James Madison) between ‘democracy’ and ‘republic’ in which a democracy involves direct rule by the people, and a republic involves indirect rule through representatives. Madison (as Publius) made this distinction in ‘The federalist’, number 10, but it has been adopted only by a narrow group of ideologues opposed to direct democracy and even largely opposed to majoritarian rule, the latter of which Madison himself believed was inherent to a republic.
— Rhode Island — a landmass in Narragansett Bay, now more often called ‘Aquidneck Island’. Politically joined with the nearby Providence region, as the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations; on independence, it became the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. The abbreviation of this long name as ‘Rhode Island’ has meant that the shorter name is now mostly used for the US state, rather than the landmass. (The term ‘plantations’ in the name meant “colonial settlements”. The state officially shortened its name to ‘State of Rhode Island’ following a 2020 referendum based on the later association of the word ‘plantation’ with Southern chattel slavery.)
— right — an entitlement to a particular benefit or good. A right only exists if it is in effect, thus no genuine right exists in conflict; no right exists without precluding a right of others to interfere with that right. Moral rights are those granted by morality; legal rights are those granted by civil law. Since it is impossible by definition for two rights to be in conflict, if a moral or governmental system professes two “rights” that are in actual (not merely apparent) conflict, then at least one of these is not an actual right. Professions of conflicting “rights” from the same system only show that systems consisting of professions can be incoherent. But both moral and legal rights can be tested in practice. For moral rights, we can examine how and whether believers apply their professed beliefs. For legal rights, we can examine which principles are actually enforced by the government.
— role — a social relationship or set of relationships meant to be held by a person but defined independently of the person who holds it, which thus may be occupied by different persons. Roles may be generic (boss) or specific (my boss). For more: society.
— Ruhrgebiet — a region of continuous urbanization in western Germany, along the Ruhr and Emscher rivers, extending east from the Rhine; originally a center of heavy industry owing to its coalfields. The Ruhrgebiet contains the original settlements of Dortmund, Essen, and Duisburg, among many others. The Ruhrgebiet is also, though, nearly continuous with the urbanization extending southward along the Rhine, thus forming a larger Rhine-Ruhr region (Metropolregion Rhein-Ruhr), including the large cities of Cologne (Kölle / Köln) and Düsseldorf (Düsseldörp).
— rural — of the countryside; pertaining to agrarian areas, including adjacent wilderness but not areas that are entirely wilderness. In modern US political discourse, ‘rural’ is often used misleadingly for any non-metropolitan area, including non-metropolitan units like counties and even whole states. Such units are described as “rural” in their entirety despite containing significant urban areas; “rural” counties typically contain at least one city of 20,000-50,000; the “rural” state of Vermont contains a metropolitan area of over 200,000, much of it unmistakably urban.
— Sahara — a desert (from Arabic صحراء « sahrāɔ », “desert”) occupying most of the northern portion of Africa. The existence of the desert, its inhospitability to most life and the difficulty of crossing it, are primarily responsible for the cultural distinctions between North Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa and for Arab dominance of North Africa, as well as the division of ecorealms within the Old World.
— Salafism — a reactionary ideology and movement within Islam venerating the generations alive during and immediately after the founding of the religion (from Arabic سلف « salaf », “ancestors”). Salafist thought is not merely theologically fundamentalist, but socially and culturally reactionary, as it proposes a return to the values of the founding era.
— 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). The expression ‘the sea’ is frequently used in context to mean the ocean. For more: surface water.
— semi-automatic — firing a single bullet with every pull of the trigger, and then automatically loading another bullet into position to be fired with another pull of the trigger. The term ‘semi-automatic’ is contrasted with ‘automatic’ — firing bullets continuously with a single pull of the trigger, reloading automatically and only ceasing when the trigger is released. (An automatic firearm is commonly called a “machine gun”.) While ‘semi-automatic’ is, within the firearms industry and among gun enthusiasts, restricted to firearms that achieve the reloading by harnessing the same force of explosion that fires the bullet, a double-action revolver has the same basic functionality: one pull of the trigger fires one bullet and positions the next bullet to be fired, and the act can be repeated until the ammunition is exhausted. Guns that must be cocked before each firing, like pump-action shotguns, are now atypical, so firearms that are semi-automatic or functionally equivalent are in fact normal guns. The invocation of “semi-automatic weapons” by gun control advocates is done either in confusion with automatic weapons, or in hopes that the audience will be confused.
— 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 and Uruguay, Chile, Brazil, Costa Rica) or Australasia, 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, Novorossiya).
— sex — a biological category of most eukaryotic species based on roles in reproduction. Sexual reproduction involves the production of offspring with genetic contributions from different sexes; in most animal species a female and male are required for natural reproduction. Nearly all humans are born unambiguously either female or male, and the fraction of intersex individuals who truly don’t fit into this biological binary is very small. As defined by reproductive systems, sex is inherent and immutable, though surgery and hormone therapy can alter many associated characteristics. For more: sex and gender.
— Sham — الشام « 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. The name ‘ISIS’ is an abbreviation for ‘Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham’ (Arabic 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 « S
— social property — tangible objects, space, or ideas claimed by a person, group, or institution, and recognized by convention as belonging to that person, group, or institution. Social property is generally called simply ‘property’, and divided into public property, recognized as belonging to the people of society as a whole (generally through and in the control of the government), and private property, recognized as belonging to any nongovernmental interest. Legal property, recognized by the government, is one form of social property, but the convention can exist through nongovernmental groups as well (for example, every item in a household may be the legal property of the parents, but certain items in the household may be recognized as the social property of a child). Social property, being a convention, differs from the empirical matter of control; a party can have recognized social ownership of an object or space but not control it, or control it without recognized social ownership. Both the Germanic word ‘own’ and the Latin word ‘PROPR-’ (source of ‘property’) referred, originally, to an inherent relationship between two things, such as that between a person and her hand, or a person and her mother; those who support social property rights tend to insist that social property is equally real, despite being a convention.
— 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.
— sound — a percept comprising pitch and volume varying over time. Because the physical mechanism that produces our perception of sound is the vibration of our eardrums from pressure waves in the air, these sound waves are often conflated with sound itself. But the term ‘sound’ exists to discuss the subjective experience.
— Stars and Bars — a flag (depicted at near right) of the Confederate States of America, used for civic purposes (with various numbers of stars) from 1861 to 1863. The name ‘Stars and Bars’ does not refer to the more familiar flag in use today; that is the Confederate Battle Flag (depicted at far right), a variant of an original battle flag adopted by the Army of Northern Virginia.
— steam — water in the air as a result of heating, especially when visible, consisting of both gaseous water, which by itself is not visible, and liquid water in tiny droplets suspended in the air, which is visible. Scientists later appropriated the word ‘steam’ to refer to gaseous water alone.
— steppe — степь « stepĵ » — a grassland in the Old World, extending in a belt between the Danube basin in the west and the Amur basin in the east. Also called the “Eurasian Steppe” or the “Great Steppe”. The steppe played an important role in history as a traffic route, particularly for nomads and nomadic cavalry of various cultures, such as the Mongols and the Turks. By extension, any grassland similar to the steppe.
— Stockholm — a landmass (from holm, “island”) along the outlet of Lake Malar (Mälaren) in Sweden (Sverige), and by extension the city centered on that landmass, the largest in Sweden. While the landmass in question is probably the main landmass in Stockholm’s central area, officially known as ‘Stadsholmen’ (“the city island”) but more commonly called ‘Gamla Stan’ (“the old town”), an alternative candidate is the smaller Helgeandsholmen (“the island of the Holy Spirit”), immediately to the north.
— substance — a thing that exists above and beyond the idea or perception of the thing. A substance (from Latin SVBSTANTIA, “standing under”) is an underlying or independent reality rather than merely an apparent reality.
— Sudan — السودان « 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 — 𒆠𒂗𒄀 « Ki-en-gi » — a nation and cultural region of the ancient Near East, at the southern end of Mesopotamia. The Sumerians (𒌦𒊕𒈪𒂵 « Ùg̃-sag̃-gíg-ga ») originated Mesopotamian civilization, the world’s oldest and most important, and developed the cuneiform script. Their dialect, Sumerian (𒅴𒂠 « Eme-g̃ir15 »), which went extinct in ancient times, had no established relationship to any known language family, but is among the proposed Nostratic dialects.
— superstition — belief that has no basis in reality; generally, an explanation for a natural phenomenon that is ill-founded and traditional. ‘Superstition’ as a term is inherently negative, and consequently applied to the beliefs of others, even by those who have beliefs of their own with no basis in reality. In parts of the West, ‘superstition’ is restricted primarily to a narrow set of folk beliefs, such as that random objects or occurrences are signs (or causes) of good or bad luck. Compare faith.
— Swahili — kiSwahili — 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.
— tectonic plate — a segment of the Earth’s crust, the outer surface layer of minerals. The Earth’s crust is not a single, continuous mass. Rather, it is broken up into a number of interlocking pieces (pictured at right, from the US Geological Survey [⇨]), which are in constant (albeit very, very slow) motion, away from, towards, under, over, and against each other. This tectonic activity is responsible for creating mountains, valleys, seas, and islands; it causes earthquakes and volcanoes; and it has helped determine the distribution of species (which has provided some historical evidence of tectonic theory). A notable feature of plate tectonics is the Ring of Fire [⇨], which mostly follows the border of the Pacific plate. The linked map shows elevated earthquake activity in a ring around the Pacific, but volcanic activity is also elevated.
— 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.
— Tibet — བོད་ « Bod » — a plateau in central Asia (depicted at near 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 far 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་ « R
— totalitarian — tending or intending to control the totality of society and the lives of individuals, or advocating a system that does so. Compare: authoritarian. The original fascism (fascismo) of Italy and the Nazism (Nazismus) of Germany were both totalitarian and highly authoritarian. The various self-designated Commmunist states were or have been totalitarian for most of their existence, but their levels of authoritarianism varied with the heads of government. Salafist organizations such as ISIS have elements of authoritarianism, but should be viewed primarily as totalitarian.
— tragedy — ΤΡΑΓΩΙΔΙΑ « tragōidia » — a Greek drama in which the protagonist’s hubris (ΥΒΡΙΣ « ‛ubris »), or failure to know its place, especially with respect to the gods, leads to a disastrous outcome for the protagonist. This was later extended to a drama with an unfortunate outcome for the protagonist regardless of cause, such as a Shakespearean tragedy in which the outcome follows mostly from misinformation. In modern usage, ‘tragedy’ is simply any unfortunate outcome, in life or fiction, for any reason, especially but not exclusively a disastrous outcome.
— transit — movement; transportation. The expressions ‘public transit’ and ‘mass transit’ are generally used interchangeably for forms of transportation designed to be used by the public, such as busses and trains. Some of those who regularly discuss public transportation have come to use ‘transit’ as a shorthand for ‘mass transit’ or ‘public transit’. Compare: prodigy; turf.
— tree — a plant with a long, woody vertical stem (a trunk), which serves to lift its photosynthetic leaves above other plants in competition for sunlight. A tree is a plant form, not a clade; trees evolved independently from numerous plant lines and are present in various ecorealms around the world, serving as the dominant life form in many ecosystems, which are known as forests or woodlands.
— troll — fish by dragging a line through the water. As a metaphorical application of this: say or do something known to be provocative solely to enjoy the reaction it will provoke. By extension, a troll is someone who seeks to provoke a reaction in this way, or an act of trolling. The substance of the provocation is not serious; or to state it conversely, a person making a provocative point in earnest is not trolling. Trolling, because it is disruptive and done primarily for the amusement of a few, is widely despised, so naturally it has become common to dismiss political or intellectual opponents as “trolls”.
— turf — cultivated short grass as a surface, either ornamental (as a lawn) or functional (as a playing field), or such grass and a shallow layer of the soil it is grown in, when removed for transplanting (and also known, in this latter sense, as ‘sod’). A synthetic material known as ‘artificial turf’ has been developed to substitute for grass, especially on athletic fields. Since grass playing surfaces are generally called “grass” (not “turf”), the term ‘artificial turf’ in an athletic context is frequently shortened to ‘turf’, and the term ‘turf’ is now limited among many speakers to artificial turf alone. Compare: prodigy; transit.
— universe — the totality of existence; the collective of all things. In materialism, the term ‘universe’ has been applied simply to the present material realm, excluding both abstract and conceptual things. As a recent materialist theory has developed the idea of multiple material realms existing simultaneously, these have each been dubbed “universes”; the idea of multiple universes is oxymoronic in the original sense of the term.
— urban — of a city; characterized by dense and well-developed settlement, with a high degree of permanent structure (buildings and roads) and a low degree of vegetation and open space. Urban areas are not all sprawling metropolitan areas; smaller cities are also urban, and even many small towns are more towards the urban end of the density and development spectrum than the suburbs of some metropolitan areas. There is, nonetheless, a modern tendency in US discourse to sort areas (typically conventional regions like counties or states) into “urban” (if they are part of a large metropolitan area) or “rural” (if they are not). Smaller cities and small towns are decidedly not rural, though. For more: city.
— Uttar Pradesh — उत्तर 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 »). The name means “northern province” and would historically have suggested a larger region; it was chosen in part because the province was commonly referred to, under British rule, as “UP”, being officially the United Provinces of Agra and Oudh (आगरा « Āgrā » and अवध « Avad‛ »).
— Uyghur — a dialect of the Turkic family (Uyğurçe / ئۇيغۇرچە « Ỉūjğūrčeh » / Уйғурчә « Uĭğurčə »), or a speaker of that dialect (Uyğur / ئۇيغۇر « Ỉūjğūr » / Уйғур « Uĭğur »). The Uyghur nation lives towards the eastern end of Turkestan, mostly in the Chinese state. The vowel in the first syllable is the ‘u’, not the ‘y’, hence “ooy-ghoor” [ʔujˈɣur], not “wee-ghoor”.
— vegetable — originally, a plant, or more loosely a plant or fungus, especially when containing parts used for human food. By extension, a conventional category of human food deriving from plants or fungi that excludes various other conventional food categories, such as grains, fruits, and nuts.
— 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.
— weed — a plant deemed undesirable, for whatever reason, in a cultivated plot of land, such as a farm field, garden, or lawn. The identification of weeds is entirely subjective; there is no biological category to which weeds belong.
— the West — the region and society of Western Christianity, and the modern societies emerging from it, including settler societies, particularly the most industrialized subregion, consisting of western Europe, the United States and Canada, and Australasia. The West is treated as a cultural, political, and economic unit; its institutions, particularly its governments, are taken to have common, and to some extent collective, interests.
— 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.
— West Indies — a group of landmasses off the central eastern coast of the New World. Conventionally divided into the Greater Antilles, the Lesser Antilles, and the Lucayan archipelago. The Greater Antilles are the largest landmasses, Cuba, Jamaica (Jumieka), Hispaniola (Ispayola / Española), and Puerto Rico, along with a few smaller landmasses nearby. The Lucayan archipelago is generally divided based on political control, into the Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos. The Lesser Antilles comprises all the remaining landmasses, on the eastern and southern edges of the Caribbean. Politically the West Indies is a mix of independent states and dependencies of New World or Western European states (the latter being Britain, France, and the Netherlands).
— Yemen — اليمن « 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.
— Zimbabwe — a Bantu (probably proto-Shona) city, of the eleventh through fifteenth centuries, near modern Masvingo in the Republic of Zimbabwe. The original city is now in ruins; by extension, a zimbabwe can be any similar ruins in the vicinity from approximately the same period. On the independence of the British colony of (Southern) Rhodesia, the new state adopted the name ‘Zimbabwe’; the ancient city is now generally referred to as ‘Great Zimbabwe’.
© O.T. FORD