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Antichthones

Definition: The people who lived on the other side of the world – an archaic word based on the speculation, before the age of exploration, that there might indeed be people on the other side of the world. Surely, it fell out of use when it became clear that there actually were people on the other side of the world.

Pronunciation: an-tik-thon-ees

Origin: From the Greek words Terra (Earth) and contra (opposite)

Why this word?

This is a curious one. In the ancient world, contrary to popular belief, it was believed that the world might, indeed, be round (the Flat Earth idea is a much later concept). The philosopher Mela put forward the idea that the earth is made up of two hemispheres – each populated. The populations of each were the antichthones of the other. It was also believed that it would be impossible for both populations to meet because the equator was far too hot to ever travel past and, thus, the equator temperature kept both populations apart.

Incidentally, it was also taken in some circles to mean that there was actually a separate Earth that mirrored ours – an early insight into dimension seven, perhaps??

The term used to describe each hemisphere in relation to the other was the antipode – the Southern Hemisphere was the antipode of the Northern Hemisphere. Interestingly, the meaning of antipode evolved, and as the Southern Hemisphere became explorable, the word came to mean a specific point on one side of the globe that matched a point on the other. If, for example, you put a sword into a globe at Hong Kong, it would come out on the other side at La Quiaca in Argentina.

Now – here’s my problem. Although antipodes evolved from referring to a whole hemisphere to referring to an individual point, antichthones did not. We do not, for example, say that the population of La Quiaca are the antichthones of the population of Hong Kong.

Interestingly – only 4% of the earth’s lands have a land antipode. If you were to drill down into the Earth from almost anywhere in the USA and come out the other side, you’d be in the Indian or Southern Ocean. There are very few places that have an antipode. The closest to me here in Lucan, Ireland, is the isolated and unpopulated Campbell Island off New Zealand. No population, though, also means no antichthones!

How to use this word

I’d like to pose a question. Is it time to suggest that the word antichthones should undergo its next level of evolution? Is it time to say that the antichthones of La Quiaca is Hong Kong? Or will it forever simply be no more than another missing branch off the lexical antipodean tree?

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Written by Sean Carabini

Seán Carabini is a Dublin-based author. To date, Seán has written the humorous travel memoirs 'Sticking Out in Minnesota' and 'American Road', as well as 'American Road: The poems' - a book of travel poetry related to the memoir. Seán has also developed a podcast based on the book - subscribe to the American Road podcast today! Seán is a committee member of the Irish Writers' Union.

Chrissy Skelton is Seán Carabini's editor. A graduate of the University of Minnesota's Anthropology programme, Chrissy emerged armed with an arsenal of little-known words and cumbersome jargon - all of which will now be off-loaded onto 'unusedwords' readers!

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