|TERESA DA SILVA|
For my first collaboration with BIRD magazine I tried to produce a slightly humoristic piece giving some insight into a passion the British have for bird watching and focussing on idioms related to birds. I did not consider that I was in over my head when I defied the readers to innumerate the idiomatic expressions in the piece. Optimism is my cross to bear so when the envisioned overflow of responses did not come in, I confess to being only slightly discouraged and here I am at it again.
John Lennon sang “You may say I’m a dreamer but I’m not the only one” and neither am I. Despite the common, yet erroneous, idea that the British are reserved, conservative, aloof, pompous, even cold-hearted people, history has shown over and over again that this is but scratching the surface.
This year marks the 500th anniversary of the first publication of a book that gave its name to an idea, an idealisation of perfection. In 1516, Thomas More published his now-famous Utopia (Libellus vere aureus, nec minus salutaris quam festivus, de optimo rei publicae statu deque nova insula Utopia) in Latin.
To give my personal interpretation of the book would be stirring up a hornet’s nest, for there are as many study as the book is of age. However, briefly, and in the hopes of creating some desire in you to read it, I can say it depicts a fictional island society and its religious, social and political customs which according to the narrator is the ideal manner in which people should live.
The stumbling block comes from the shorter title “Utopia” which derives from the Greek prefix (ou), meaning “not” and topos (τόπος) plus the typical toponymal suffix (-ία) translating to “place”. The crux of the matter is that “Utopia” can be read as “nowhere”. However and thus the twist, in English, the word is pronounced /juˈtəʊpɪə/ with the prefix being confused with the greek prefix (eὐ) meaning “good” – good place.
This should break the back of the beast and have us all completely at ease with the idea of a good (perfect, even) but non-existent place. A literary dream…an unachievable desire put on paper by someone who did not agree with the ways of the world five hundred years ago. Five centuries later, one is amazed at the number of people who face the elephant in the room head on trying to bring about a better world to live in. Quoting the website Utopia Britannica: British Utopian Experiments 1325 – 1945 “Can there ever have been a land where so many people at so many times have tried to create their ideal community?”
Of course, this idealism is not just part of the British way of life but to have come from people who are usually seen as cold-hearted makes us wonder to what extent we only look at the tip of the iceberg when relating to another culture, to what extent we only look at what is on the surface and refuse to embrace the whole being. In other words, to what extent we do not embark on this Utopian dream because it would mean putting ourselves in a tight spot.
I leave you, my readers, with another handful of idioms and this precious quote by Oscar Wilde “A map of the world that does not include Utopia is not worth even glancing at, for it leaves out the one country at which Humanity is always landing. And when Humanity lands there, it looks out, and seeing a better country, sets sail. Progress is the realisation of Utopias.” Once again, I encourage you to reach out and discuss this issue with me or to tell me and the other readers which idioms you have found and how you would translate them to Portuguese.