Utopia - an ideal place?

Wordy Weekly XXXIV


If you were asked to define the word ‘Utopia’, you would probably say that means ‘an ideal society/place’ and was the title of Thomas Moore’s famous work. I remember wondering about this word after discussing idealised societies with a Extended Project student of mine, and the question I found myself asking was ‘why was it not spelt’ – EUTOPIA, which would be the original spelling in Greek, EU- meaning well or good, and -TOPIA from the Greek topos meaning place. There are plenty of words in English beginning with prefix ‘eu’ and in each case it comes from the Greek, ‘well’, for example, euphemism or eulogy. So, why not eutopia.


Utopia comes not from ‘eutopia’, but ‘outopia’ (οὐτοπία), which means ‘no place’. This leads us to question whether Moore really was prescribing an ideal society or being satirical about the improbability of such a concept. I wonder if he was playing on both, with a tongue-in-cheek, wouldn’t it be nice, but it’s not going to happen,’ air.


A bit of a bleak Wordy Weekly. Although, ‘fair’ or ‘ideal place’ has become the accepted meaning, when delves into its origins, it is not quite such a positive term. Effectively, we are left without a term for ‘ideal place’. We have ‘no place’ and ‘bad place’ (dystopia).


All we need now is a term for Plato’s Republic. Thus, I coin the term margotatotopia, ‘utterly bonkers place.’

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