It’s not very common in conversation, not in its original sense at least. People stick to ‘weird’, which is a whole other story, coming from Old English wyrð, meaning fate or destiny. You generally only see it when some hack journalist has been detailed to put down the latest outbreak of truth from behind the curtain. Such journalists restrict their ‘research’ to thumbing through the thesaurus, of course. Let’s see… bogus, baseless, groundless, unfounded, false, untrue, unhinged, deranged…. outlandish.
But once in a while I’ll hear it, when Agent Smith takes over the body and brain of one of those close to me in the Matrix. Family and friends, always the first to try to bring you in line, for your own sake, no doubt, to protect you from yourself.
“These outlandish conspiracy theories…”
Outlandish. Kind of a cool word, actually. Got a northern ring to it, like it comes down from Anglo-Saxon or Norse.
But what does it mean?
1. looking or sounding bizarre or unfamiliar. ”Outlandish, brightly coloured clothes.”
2. ARCHAIC foreign or alien.
ūtland —> ūtlendisc —> outlandish
Old English ūtlendisc ‘not native’, from ūtland ‘foreign country’.
abnormal alien anomalous atypical bizarre cranky deviant divergent eccentric exotic fantastic far-out foreign freakish grotesque idiosyncratic kooky leftfield ludicrous odd oddball offbeat off-centre out of the way outré peculiar preposterous queer quirky freaky off-the-wall screwy singular strange unconventional unfamiliar unknown unheard of unorthodox unusual way-out wacky weird
ordinary, commonplace, conventional, normal…
Is that it? So many synonyms, and just four antonyms? I suppose normal never needs many words.
My thinking wasn’t always ūtlendisc, of course. I was once an inlander too. It was only when I left my country, moving not so far, but across the sea, to Amsterdam, where on a day in early 2002 I wandered into a coffeeshop after work to check my emails, and there on the computer screen was a document left by the previous user when his or her coins ran out: FAA protocols for the interception of hi-jacked planes.
By that time I’d stopped shelling out six euros a time for imported copies of The Guardian, which I’d read for all my adult life inland. I still saw BBC 24-hour news, and CNN, on the tiny television with built-in VHS I’d brought with me. The endlessly recycling headlines, slick logos and urgent, fight-or-flight-mode music.
As I stirred sugar into my coffee I scanned the document, thought ‘Hmm, that’s odd’ like an inlander, closed it, and found a website behind it on the screen — What Really Happened, a ‘content farm’ type site run by Mike Rivero out of Hawaii. After that I started reading the whole world’s press — and the citizen press. And it took a while from there, but eventually, more than half a year after I left my country, I arrived in ūtland, and here I am, a million miles from where I started out.
Though very much inland in the physical sense, landlocked, even, here in Isan, North Eastern Thailand. There are people around me who have never seen the sea. But that’s OK — there plenty of people who travel the world and never set foot outside their In-land, it’s so strong in them. I’ve known them and worked with them, and fallen out with a few.
Me and my outlandish ideas.
Now the world has shut down, and of course I have some ideas about that, too. Relatives write to me, asking how things are here. As soon as I open my outlandish mouth, of course, they go a bit quiet. If I do it again, they start to get annoyed with me.
Things here are fine. It’s hot. We have a plague of beetles. People still eat with their hands. (Spoons are for soup.) Nobody here is worried about a virus, just as nobody here puts any credence in first-world delusions like global warming. Here it’s always hot this time of year, so they get up before dawn to work, and sleep a couple of hours after dark. And there’s always drought, though it’s getting worse, but that’s because government officials block the springs to make it worse. Why? Because drought creates a big aid budget, and we all know where most of that ends up. If there’s a problem here it isn’t CO2 .
Of course things have changed. Thirty years ago, when she was a child, Red tells me, there were huge flocks of birds that could block the sun, horizon to horizon almost, and you don’t see that any more.
Well, the past is another country. People went hunting in the hills, and clouds took recognisable shapes against skies of blue. And recently the old lady, Red’s mother, saw something truly outlandish, an hour before dawn — a train of stars, regularly spaced, in a straight line, moving smoothly across the sky. She didn’t know what it was, but she knew it was nothing natural, and nothing good.
As for me, I can’t imagine ever getting home, now, or where that even is any more. Some place where people think like me? Not England, then. Bohemia, perhaps, or Erewhon. Some fictitious country where I can live with my outlandish thoughts and an outlandish cat, eating funny-looking fish and weird outlandish leaves.
That’s my wyrð. An Anglo-Saxon word meaning, as a noun, destiny; as an adjective, supernatural.
I’ve been self-isolating for years as it is. I know my outlandish ideas are dangerous, and I don’t know how or even whether I should expose family to them, given the unlikelihood, at this late stage, of being able to get them to see what I see.
They’ll never know what hit them, the inlandish on their little island, as the tsunami comes rolling in from an ocean they never dreamt existed.
The truth is, I don’t know if I can ever set foot there again, since I will not be participating in this New Normal. Phone apps and micro-needle patches and QR codes. Contact tracing and social distancing. A swab rammed up right into your third eye. The whole dreary masquerade.
It’s not really making a decision, it’s just knowing. As if a part of me stepped out and took a good look at me then shook his head. ‘No, I can’t see him doing any of that.’
In any case, the borders are closed until further notice.