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Brandon Robshaw: English Usage #4


A good friend of mine – take a bow, Mr Bruce Dessau – has forwarded to me this snippet from the Visit Kent website:

"The Covid-19 pandemic has thrown us all into unchartered territory."

Unchartered territory, eh? The word "charter" has two main meanings. The older meaning is for an authority to formally establish and grant rights to, as in a monarch or mayor chartering a city or company. In William Blake's poem "London" he writes: "I wander through each chartered street/ near where the chartered Thames does flow" – meaning that the streets and river have been been parcelled up and handed out by the City to various companies for their own private use: the repeated use of the word implies a protest at this state of affairs. The second, more recent, meaning is to hire, as in chartering a plane. Clearly neither of those senses could apply to the metaphorical territory that the pandemic has taken us into. No, what the Kent copywriter meant was uncharted territory: territory that hasn't been charted, or mapped.

I would get out more; but that would be irresponsible at this time.

Dr Brandon Robshaw lectures for the Open University in Philosophy, Creative Writing and Children’s Literature. He has written several children’s books including a philosophical YA novel, The Infinite Powers of Adam Gowers. He and his family starred in BBC2’s Back in Time for Dinner. You can find his website here.


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