You’re up, high up, high in the vertical, eyes diverted, extraverted – outside at the railing – and then you look over the verge, and o, view forever; you are riveted, shivering at vividness of the overt elevation, but, no, git over, your ungoverned gogglings have given way to a riven, gyrating vigilance, and with a vagitus you divagate dizzily to an ogive or trave, a rivage above the gorge, and are revisited by gravity.
Hello, hello… you’re in a place called vertigo. It’s everything you wish you didn’t know… (U2, eh?) But question: what part is the vertigo? You have found yourself in vertiginous heights. Were you overcome with a fear of falling? You may or may not have been, but that wasn’t the vertigo; that’s acrophobia. Oh, millions of people are no doubt under the impression, abetted by the Hitchcock film Vertigo, that vertigo has something to do with heights. But it ain’t necessarily so.
What I mean is that heights can cause vertigo in some people, but so can many other things. I daresay more people probably get it from excessive alcohol consumption. The vert, you see, is etymologically the same vert as in vertical, but the root refers to turning. Turn up and it’s vertical. Turn back and you revert; turn aside and you divert. And if you feel like you’re turning – your head spins right round, baby, right round, like a record, baby, right round, round, round – when you’re not actually moving, that’s vertigo. (And I don’t know about you, but when I get it, I go vert – that’s green, son, green.)
Vert is really a sort of angular root – think of vertex, for instance (whereas vertigo is more like a vortex) – but in the end you can see it go round. And in your mouth you can feel it go round, your lips rounding. Not only that, you can feel it go around your mouth, starting with the teeth and lips /v/, coming next to touch at the tip of the tongue /t/, then bouncing off the back /g/ back up to the front /o/. Say it over and over, vertigovertigovertigovertigo, and you can feel it whirl around in your mouth like a carnival ride, until, perhaps, at last you end up with fatigue. It ain’t easy bein’ dizzy.