More From Rieff (1)
Club 8 (self-titled)

England, Center of the World

"They might, he said, come out to Vienna." 

That's from the Auden biography I'm reading. It's 1937 (I think) and "they" is Auden and Christopher Isherwood. 

It always amuses me that the English seem generally to refer to any travel abroad as going "out." The direction doesn't matter: out to Canada, out to Australia. And as in this case maybe only over to the continent. (Americans are more likely to say "over" to some other country. Or perhaps "down" for south and "up" for north.)  It's as if England is, naturally, the center, and to go anywhere else one must (obviously!) go out from the center. I first heard it from the Bonzo Dog Band, when they sang about "Hunting Tigers Out In India."

Judging by some of the contemporary British crime dramas I watch, they're still doing it: some criminal has "gone out to Spain" to spend the fortune he made from selling drugs or some other illegal activity, or a detective has retired there. 


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Might it have to do with being an island nation? In the days before airplanes, going to any other country, except Wales or Scotland, meant going out from a port.

That makes sense. I was thinking it might have to do with the Empire, with Britain as the capitol. But the island thing probably makes more sense. Just as much anyway. I said "England" instead of "Britain" because I think I've only heard it from the English.

It occurs to me that "outer space" is always just that, and space travel is always spoken of as "out." It's sort of amusing to think that the English, at the height of empire, may have seen the rest of the world that way.

There are a number of English/Irish/Scottish folk songs that begin, "As I walked out..." or "As I roved out..." It could be that it originated in that type of colloquial usage and eventually came to apply to England as a whole, like the way we refer to someone who's away as being "out of town."

I've always taken that line as "out of the house." Which would make "out to Spain" just an extension of the basic idea of leaving home, which then makes one ask why we *don't* say it that way. Our less rooted ways?

Maybe it's that, combined with the fact that we have more space. People from the east still say "out west'' sometimes. And occasionally you even hear "out east."

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