In a word...


And today’s word is `dystopia’. Hey…..! Don’t run away. It not that awful. A simple word, really. If you know classical Greek.

It means the opposite of that wonderful place Utopia of whom the great Oscar (Wilde) said: “A map of the world that does not include Utopia is not worth even glancing at, for it leaves out the one country at which humanity is always landing. And when humanity lands there, it looks out, and, seeing a better country, sets sail. Progress is the realisation of Utopias.”

A bit long-winded for Oscar, but you get the idea.

And of course St/Sir Thomas More (1478-1535), who lost his head to Henry VIII, wrote a book by the name Utopia: (where premarital sex is punished by a lifetime of enforced celibacy and adultery by enslavement!) Moving on quickly….


Dystopia is not just the opposite of that. It has nothing to do with sexual license. It is simply about frightening, untold (?) human misery, a post- apocalyptic, inhuman world where all is devastation and catastrophe, where hope is banished with nothing but ruin. Think Fianna Fail after the last election.

It is a place where, as far as the individual is concerned, he/she is simply crushed spiritually and emotionally. Imagine a Mayo/Dub supporter on the last weekend in August just past, or behold the losing side in next Sunday’s All-Ireland football final. It is worse than that, even. They at least have hope for next year.

The word itself is a combination of `dys’ and `utopia’; `dys’ being an omni-purpose Greek prefix that rendered all attached words as `bad, ill, or abnormal’. It serves a similar purpose in English, hence dysentery (`entera` being `bowels` in Latin) and dyslexia (`lexis’ being `word` in Latin).

Utopia however was invented by St/Sir Thomas More to mean `nowhere’ and is a combination of two Greek words `ou’, meaning `not’ and `topos’ meaning ‘place’ - not a place. Bright boy that.

But, and here's the piece de resistance dear reader, the word dystopia was invented by none other than John Stuart Mill who did so, wait for it, in a House of Commons debate on the Irish question in 1868. Referring to the position of government deputies he said: "It is, perhaps, too complimentary to call them Utopians, they ought rather to be called dys-topians, or cacotopians."