"That's a great deal to make one word mean," Alice said in a thoughtful tone. "When I make a word do a lot of work like that," said Humpty Dumpty, "I always pay it extra."

Monday, 19 October 2009

The Four Corners of the Earth


Have you ever wondered about the expression ‘the four corners of the earth’? It means the most remote parts of the world, the uttermost ends of the earth. Even Terry Pratchett’s Discworld doesn’t have corners so where did the expression come from? The answer is nobody knows. Sorry to have built you up and then failed to satisfy your usual longing to know but there is a reason.

I was amazed to find that in 1965 members of the John Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory identified the four corners of the earth as being in Ireland; south-eats of the Cape of Good Hope; west of the Peruvian coast; and between New Guinea and Japan. Each of these ‘corners’ of several thousand square miles in area is some 37metres (120 ft) above the geodetic mean and the gravitational pull in measurably greater at these locations. (And no, I don’t understand what that means either!!!)



  1. Very interesting!
    I just assumed it meant the four corners of the old maps which showed the earth as flat...
    Canadian Chickadee

  2. It probably did, Carol. I hadn't thought of it but I bet that is where it really did originate!

  3. I always just took this to mean east, west, north and south. The expression might go back further but it is used in the Book of Revelations 7:1. "After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth to prevent any wind from blowing..." I'll try to remember checking up if it is an image also used in the Old Testament. There have always been people who have spent a lot of energy trying to interpret Biblical images WAY too literally...

  4. Back again. I knew I'd seen it in the Old Testament as well...
    "He will raise a banner for the nations and gather the exiles of Israel; he will assemble the scattered people of Judah, from the four corners of the earth." Isaiah 11:12 (prophecy about how the Lord will one day gather his scattered people)
    That does not really explain the decisions of that Physics Lab, though! -LOL-

  5. Gosh, Monica, I'm learning as much as everyone else doing this blog.