Saturday, April 15, 2017

No Man Is An Island

The Latin word insula had two meanings, one dry and one wet. It meant a block of buildings separated from surrounding structures, and it also meant an island – a land mass completely surrounded by water.

It shows up in words like insulate, insulated, and insulation. In those words, it can mean much the same as isolation, but it can also refer to a protective covering or barrier. This appears in reference to electricity, sound, and heat or cold.

It takes on a negative sense in words like insular and insularity. The stereotype is that people who live on an island are cut off from mainlanders, and are thus prone to narrow or prejudiced feelings, ideas, or social expectations. Their minds allegedly close up, just as their island is closed off from the rest of society.

The Latin root also shows up in the word peninsula. I remember a student who was convinced that a peninsula was so named because it was shaped like a penis. I had a difficult time convincing him that it came from the words paene insula, almost an island. Replace the connection to the land mass with more water, and you would have a full-fledged island.

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