ubiety

Do I sense some dubiety about the propriety of ubiety in society? But everyone has somewhereness: you can only be in one place, and that you-be-one is U B I, which is Latin for “where” (as the pseudo-Latin joke goes, semper ubi sub ubi: “always where under where” – say it aloud). That where that you are, incidentally, may be called a ubity, and was as recently as 1964 by W.H. Auden. So ubiety means being in a unity of ubity.

Now, mind, if you are in one where and another where and some other where and every other where, then it’s “and where”, which in Latin (with its clitic conjunction que, as seen in senatus populusque Romanum, “senate and populace of Rome”) is ubique. And where does that end up, in English? Wherever there’s a Tim Hortons, Canadians might say: it’s ubiquitous, and the noun is ubiquity.

But it would be iniquity to replace ubiety with ubiquity. That would be to take e, which is natural enough, and push it to the limit until you want to quit. Unless, of course, you’re an omnipresent being, in which case your ubity is here, there, and everywhere – quite. Or, if your metaphysics is replaced with ‘pataphysics, you could have ubuity. You can also be in many places at once, of course, with the aid of YouTubeity.

Which reminds me of something this word illustrates: the vowel shift in English. English, when it was Old, had vowel sounds rather like those of Latin – plus some more, but when you saw a u you know it was [u] or [U] and when you saw an i you knew it was [i] or [I]. But then, over the course of more than a century, the pronunciation of long vowels shifted – they shifted upwards, so that [a] went to [e] and [e] to [i], and that forced [i] to scoop down at the start to emphasize it, [aI]. At the back similar things happened, and [u] ended up in many places as either [aU] (as in house) or [ju] (as in use). So a word that could have been “oo-bee-it-ee” was conformed instead to the English standards of the time, already largely in place in the 17th century when it was borrowed and, for that matter, already being used for Latin pronunciation by the English, too. And that straight, narrow locution was displaced by one that starts narrow and the front, then slides back and opens wide before narrowing to the front again – quite a tour of the mouth.

Do you buy it, eh? Well, it’s true. Sounds may be said in only one place in the mouth at a time, but that place moves – it varies a bit even within one speaker’s speech, and more between speakers, and over time the standard can simply move. So the ubiety of vowels is questionable at best, though the vowels of ubiety are just as one might expect.

Thanks to Margaret Gibbs for suggesting ubiety.

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