Footloose in the Antipodes

I was recently looking at a blog by a woman in Australia who enjoys hiking, and a would-be title for a post popped into my head: “Footloose in the Antipodes.” For inhabitants of Europe and North America, the Antipodes (note the capital letter) are Australia and New Zealand. More generally, antipodes (note the lower case) are two places opposite each other on the globe. Spanish similarly has antípoda, whose written accent coincidentally tells us that the four-syllable English antipodes is likewise stressed on its second syllable. In terms of semantics, however, Spanish antípoda, according to the DRAE, ‘Se dice de cualquier habitante del globo terrestre con respecto a otro que more en lugar diametralmente opuesto,’ so the Spanish word refers to the inhabitants of opposite places rather than to the places themselves. A little more loosely, the adjective antípoda can mean ‘que se contrapone totalmente a alguien o algo,’ which English might translate as ‘contrarian.’ In fact the DRAE explains that the adverbial phrase en los (or las) antípodas means ‘en lugar o posición radicalmente opuesta o contraria.’

In terms of etymology, antípoda/antipodes comes via Latin from the plural of Greek antipous, a compound meaning ‘opposite feet.’ I know, it would take a bowlegged giant standing astride our earthly globe for the geographical meaning to make sense, but we’ll have to cut the ancient Greeks some slack. We’ll also have to point out that Greek pous was the cognate of Latin pes (and therefore Spanish pie) as well as native English foot, with all of them descended from the Indo-European root *ped- that meant ‘foot.’

© 2015 Steven Schwartzman


24 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Maria F.
    Mar 05, 2015 @ 21:21:39

    A word with a lot of history. These are the kind of words the Spaniards love to use, yet here, and other Spanish colonized Greater and Lesser Antilles, have different Spanish. There is a tendency to simplify language, and it may have to do with so many influences from previous colonizations, and on top of that, the Tainos. The word is totally unknown to me.


  2. Maria F.
    Mar 06, 2015 @ 11:17:34

    Well, I hope I don’t find you in Miami’s Little Havana with Tony Montana and his gang.


  3. melissabluefineart
    Mar 06, 2015 @ 17:36:34

    Languages are like nice wines, for me. I love making forays into them, and was tickled that I could understand most of what you said here. I wouldn’t have been able to generate it, but to be able to read it made me happy. Antipodes is a particularly satisfying word, isn’t it? And so, did you suit actions to words?


  4. Maria F.
    Mar 06, 2015 @ 19:33:37

    I think Steve was tickled by some memory he had, so tomorrow morning he’s flying off to Quebec, to meet with some French Canadian acquaintances.


  5. shoreacres
    Mar 09, 2015 @ 09:43:11

    I heard “antipodal” used in a radio broadcast last week. I suspect I wouldn’t have noticed, had I not already seen the title of this post.

    It was used on one of those crazy late-night programs called “Ground Zero.” It’s not even worth linking to, actually. The subject at hand was the re-starting of the CERN collider on March 15, and the presumed “antipodal effects” which will accompany it: earthquakes, enormous sinkholes and fissures, tidal waves. There was some mention of the opening of the gates of hell, too, which ought to be interesting.

    I did find a clutch of antipodal maps online, where you can determine what’s actually on the opposite side of the globe. For most of us, it’s water. And, so much for what my friends and I believed about digging a tunnel to China.


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©2011–2016 Steven Schwartzman
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