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lostcause

The word 'country' - silly detail bother.

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I don't know why, but the use of the word country in this show felt off to me.



Maybe it rings too modern, and I'm not even sure if they've used it before. But when it was used in this episode it stuck with me as "off" as opposed to using nation, realm or lands.




Anyone else have a term or a phrase they felt didn't fit Westeros/Essos?


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I had this problem with the soundtracks on another show. As for this one, I'm only glad that I'm not a native english speaker and I don't make much difference between old/new terms.


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I don't know why, but the use of the word country in this show felt off to me.

Maybe it rings too modern, and I'm not even sure if they've used it before. But when it was used in this episode it stuck with me as "off" as opposed to using nation, realm or lands.

There's nothing modern about the word "country". It goes back to Middle English, which is roughly 1150 - 1500.

As does "slut".

ETA: Words and names have always interested me, so I looked up a few of these for date in the OED.

tavern, 1286

country, 1300

citizen, 1325

bitch (referring to a woman), 1400

slut, 1402

"all the rage" is a little later (1780)

'Dumb' meaning "saying nothing to the understanding; inexpressive, meaningless; stupid, senseless" can be found as far back as 1531, although the modern usage applied to a person is much more recent (1823), and mainly American.

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I've referred to it as an anachronism, which isn't really the right term, but it's certainly not the right word. It's not really a country, it's a kingdom. In the books, it's referred to solely as "the realm", which is why it sounds off.


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'Country' is a very elastic term though. The OED gives multiple definitions. It can be a synonym for kingdom, realm, state or any territory really.



Here's one definition: An area of land of defined extent characterized by its human occupants or boundaries





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Country as a word has evolved over time to mean different things at different times. The way Varys was using it was in the modern sense, which would have been incorrect a few centuries ago. Varys speaks of country as being equivalent to a "state". The concept of the "Nation State" is something that doesn't crop up in popular consciousness until post-American & French Revolutions. It becomes semi-acceptable reasons for why German and Italian Unification occurs in the 1860s and 1870s, and doesn't really become an acceptable term to describe how the majority of Western peoples organize themselves until after WWI--with the idea of a "country" being a Romantic 19th Century notion that helps fuel all the popular revolt and rebellion in the period against the Biedermeier police state-like absolutist empires clamping down on such ideas. So the OP is right in stating that it is achronistic as the manner in which Varys is describing Westeros is a post-19th Century style of using the word.

Prior to that? In the 18th Century (and even somewhat into the early 19th Century as Jane Austen gives us a rather late example) we have the example of people from England especiallying calling any non-urban area "country". It's especially more noticeable in earlier 18th Century novels like Tom Jones or Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure, which further drive home the differences between "Town" (aka urban London) and "Country" (aka rural counties). Jane Austen is at the latter end of this sense of the word, before the post-Napoleonic notions of "nation state = country" idea took off. In this sense country often is how people simply refer to the county they come from. It's rather jarring at first when reading Jane Austen to hear a character states "she's gone off into that country", not meaning that the character they're talking about has left England, but simply meaning she's left London and returned to the countryside or even the county of her birth.

And rewinding time back to the days of Shakespeare? It's noticeable that in Henry V's wooing of Katherine of Valois scene from Henry V, where he talks about England and France he does not refer to them as countries, but instead simply constantly talks about them as England and France as if they were greaters ideas and terms that transcend their actual borders.

In Hamlet, Hamlet asks Ophelia what she thinks of "country" manners, which has the meaning along the lines that we found in Jane Austen and the 18th Century authors. Similarly you see the same use of the word as simply meaning "rural" in All's Well that Ends Well, As You Like It ("Those that are good manners at the court are as ridiculous in the country as the behaviour of the country is most mockable at the court."), etc.

It isn't really until you get to Shakespeare's Roman plays that you get a more modern sense of the word "country". In Antony and Cleopatra we hear the words "country" and "countryman" used in a more modern sense, also in Coriolanus. Which makes sense because that's how Romans did refer to one another (albeit in Latin). We also see the word Citizen in Shakespeare's Roman plays, but again this is something more associated with Rome. In all of Shakespeare's modern setting plays, the use of the word country returns to meaning how people would use the word "rural" or "county" nowadays. Which gives a very good sense that the use of the word country in that sense comes more from conscious Roman imitation--which makes sense when you consider the attempts to create Republics in Europe in the Renaissance usually turned to this kind of language as a way of reviving old Roman ideas of how people related to their rulers, etc as a distinction between a King and his subjects.

To further support this notion, you see in Cymbeline a divide with how the word "Country" is used between the Roman characters and the Briton characters. When talking about country all the Roman subjects (Frenchmen, and Romans who live in Celtic England under the rule of King Cymbeline) refer to "country" in the manner which we see Shakespeare use the word in his Roman plays. However Belarius, a native Briton, describes the battle which occurs in the play as "If in your country wars you chance to die..." which suggests the "rural" meaning here, especially considering the climatic battle takes place outside of Milford Haven--an anachronistic setting, but a well known safe harbor in the middle of nowhere in Wales important in English history from the Middle Ages onwards for staging invasion of England or Ireland (depending upon who was doing the invading)--out in the country and in the middle of nowhere.

So the idea of having a "country" mean nation, while a very modern notion, is also an extremely old one and has more over time been a reflection of expressing how people and their rulers interact, having historical connotations which correlate country more with places which had "chosen membership" where people have something of a say in choosing their leaders. So is it out of place? Yes, but considering Varys comes from Lys, which is based upon the Italian City States which were in the time period where you were going to find Republics trying to emulate Rome, could Varys conceivably say something like this to denote how he sees the world differently than someone like Tyrion who was simply born to be a noble subject in the Kingdom? Most certainly.

Could they have found a better word? Yes. But I don't think most people watching the show would have gotten what was said if it was. There is only so much antiquated terminology that your average TV watcher can take before they completely lose interest.

And it's not the worst slip up. GRRM uses modern names that didn't exist until the 20th Century in his fantasy world (Darla, aka Darla Deddings--Darla's a pet name for Darleen/Darlene, which didn't exist until the 20th Century). So while it's a little disconcerting, it's not something I'd worry too much over compared to things like leaving the Young Griff out.

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Thanks for your comments, Whitewolf Stark, interesting stuff.



One thing you didn't mention is the punning use of "country" ( :uhoh: think first syllable only!) which was often used in plays and poetry. The passage you referred to with Hamlet and Ophelia is one such - it's just a dirty joke really. :blush:



I'm not sure that it's valid to think in terms of anachronisms though. This isn't a real history, it's an imaginary world. It's easy to forget that it's not the world we know. There are constant small reminders of this in the books, such as the spelling of 'Ser' instead of 'Sir' , which is established from page 1 and pulls the reader up at once. This doesn't of course come across in the show. It's also reflected in the names of characters. A few are names we use today (Robert, Gregor) some slightly altered (Eddard, Petyr), some medieval (Alys, Jeyne) and some unfamiliar or invented (Jorah, Renly).



I do agree that there is the occasional phrase that jars, and I also find this in the books.



I find all this sort of thing fascinating.


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