The other day, driving the car on a boring section of road, with other, better things to occupy my mind (things I didn’t want to let in), I found myself thinking about the word outlandish. It came to me for the first time that its root was outland. So why had I never, in the thousands of times I have seen outlandish, realized this? Perhaps because I thought that outland was not a word? According to the Oxford English Dictionary, which I consulted when I got home, outland actually is a word, though some of its uses are archaic, as in “A fine romantic tale of Cornwall in the days when the strange people of that strange outland were in the throes of ranting Methodism.” (1934, Tablet).
But then, if outlandish came from outland, why not inlandish and uplandish?After all, inland and upland are much more common words today.
By then, in my head, Outland became an imaginary place, where strange and impossible (outlandish) people and things revel in their oddities. A place perhaps without geographical dimensions? But some real places are Outlands. Brooklyn (maybe once upon a time). All those Left Banks, where eccentric artists and just plain eccentrics live. These are places on the edge – the outland of a mainland, which is seemingly of the mainstream, a turbulent place where, among other things, capitalists make money seem like something real and build financial castles out of some kind of trading I don’t understand. So, on second thought, could Mainland be an Outland, too? No. In spite of those castles, the mainland has a sober affect. Its buildings are grey, and its people more often dress in plain suits and keep their eccentricities indoors.
And why don’t inlandish and uplandish exist? Certainly, where I live, in Southern California, the people who live inland have, according to us snooty people on the coast, an inlandishness. They wear socks under their sandals and bring too much paraphernalia – coolers,umbrellas, and big towels – to the beach. We might say, if the word existed, that a pair of sequined sunglasses is inlandish.
As for uplandish, I don’t even want to think about that. And I need to keep my mind on the road.