Jan 19, 2014

Call It an Experiment

fiction by killre

"Have you ever heard of a scappa flow?"


"What is it?"

Well, it's not a scappa flow.  It's just Scapa Flow.  It's the name of a British naval base on the North Sea.  Or it was, anyway.  I'm actually not sure they use it anymore.

"So it's a harbor."


"Why do they call it a flow and not a harbor?"

Um... the short answer is:  I don't know.

(pause)  "What's the long answer?"

The long answer isn't really an answer; it's a bunch of rhetorical questions.

(deep breath)  "Okay."

Okay?  Okay.  Why do some cultures have twenty-three different words for snow?  Why do others have nineteen different words for mud?  Why are some bays called bays and others are called sounds and still others are called inlets, or coves?  I think I know why some of them are called fjords, but what the hell is a lagoon?  Because I'm pretty sure it isn't what Gilligan's Island led me to believe.  That shouldn't surprise me, because the same show tried to convince me week after week after week that Ginger was, like, ten times hotter than Mary Ann.  I'm not trying to take anything at all away from Tina Louise, but she wasn't.  Okay?  She just wasn't.

Why are some storms called hurricanes and others are called typhoons?  Why are some monkeys called monkeys and others are known as lemurs?  At what point is a point big enough to be considered a peninsula?  How wide can isthmus be before it can no longer be called an isthmus?  Is there a mathematical formula for that?  Do you know how high a hill can be before you start calling it a mountain?  According to the trailer of an old Hugh Grant movie, a thousand feet.  Is that measured from sea level or from the valley floor?  I don't know: I didn't watch the movie.  Something tells me if I did, I still wouldn't know.

Why are some wetlands called an estuary and others are called a marsh and others a swamp?  When does a strait become a channel?  Where, and more importantly why, does the Blackwater River become the Blackwater Rush?

I mean, your question is largely a philosophical one.  Oh, I'm sure somewhere there's a very technical, very intricate answer, and I wouldn't doubt there's some expert who actually knows it, but for the rest of us it boils down to taste... or perception or... idiosyncrasies of dialect or... linguistic inertia or something.

(pause)  "No offense, but you think too much."

Or too little!  Who's to say?

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