seven corners of the world

Discuss word origins and meanings.
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seven corners of the world

Post by Ken Greenwald » Mon Aug 05, 2013 6:19 am

aaa
<2011 “ . . . and [he] began to recruit students, who come from the seven corners of the world . . .”—A Lesson in Secrets by Jacqueline Winspear, page 18>
SEVEN CORNERS OF THE WORLD (also, OF THE EARTH)? I always thought that the world had four corners (‘four corners of the world’). However, we in the Flat Earth Society are not necessarily opposed to some extra corners as long as the flatness is preserved. Personally, I think seven is an awkward number of sides for a polygon even if they were all equal (a septagon or heptagon) – but each to his own.

A Google search (at my space-time coordinates) produced a couple of hundred thousand hits for the ‘seven’ version versus about 250 million for the ‘four.’

My initial guess as to how the ‘seven’ got in there was that it probably came from a blending of ‘four corners of the earth’ (Isaiah 11.12 - all parts of the world or the farthest points) and the ‘seven seas’(1872 - all the oceans of the world). This would argue for the expression being born in the 19th or 20th century. However, its origin actually goes back to at least the early 17th century where it appeared in Cervantes’ Don Quixote (see 2010 quote below). But I don’t know where the expression was hiding for a couple of centuries (at least as far as I could find) before it surfaced again in the 1800s.

So why seven? The number ‘seven’ is a mystical number in many cultures and has been for thousands of years. There are many theories as to why seven became important including: the Big Dipper contains 7 stars which are visible year round in the northern hemisphere; the Babylonians, Greeks, and Romans each believed there were seven planets with 7 associated gods; seven days of creation; seven days in a week; Seven Sacraments; Seven Deadly Sins; Seven Wonders of the World, Seven-11, 7-Up, . . .

The following quotes are from archived sources:
<1833 “. . . but no magic or machinery could bring the adventures of The Seven Champions of Christendom in their several seven corners of the world upon the one same stage at the one same time.”—The Albion And The Star (London). 27 December, page 3>

<1903 “We send papers to the seven corners of the earth following residents who wish news of the old home . . .”—Ludington Daily News (Michigan), 29 January, page 6>

<1917 “The characteristics of our ancestors ten thousand years ago are considered determinant to-day—in a world revolutionized by steam and electricity, and knit together by wireless and international trade in all the seven corners of the earth!”—The Class Struggle by R. V. LaMonte and L. Corey, Vol. 1, page 88>

<1936 “The seven corners of the earth / Have I seven times visited.”—The Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, Volume 66, page 295>

<1968 “The Israelites prostrate, angels supporting them. They see seven heavens, seven abysses, seven corners of the earth but only one God.”—The Exempla of the Rabbis (1968), edited by Moses Gaster, page 142> [[“The Material has been gathered chiefly from ancient Hebrew manuscripts and a few from very rare old prints.”]]

<1977 “Twice they were sent the seven wedding-folks coming from the seven corners of the earth, . . .”—An Anthology of Ugric Folk Literature: Tales and Poems of the Ostyaks, Voguls, and Hungarians, page 38> [[Ugric: A branch of the Uralic family of languages, consisting of Hungarian and two languages, Khanty and Mansi, spoken in western Siberia.]]

<2002 “The sign-in-the-heavens motif is in keeping with the Mesopotamian-Iranian notion of the ruler's cosmic kingship: the king was the lord of ‘the seven corners of the earth,’”—Holy Rulers and Blessed Princesses: Dynastic Cults in Medieval central Europe by G. Klaniczay and ‎I. Halfin, page 26>

<2010 “This I shall do not by resting but by traveling to the seven corners of the earth . . .”— Don Quixote by Cervantes (translated by J. H. Montgomery), first published in in two volumes, in 1605 and 1615, page 544>

<2013 “She is now in the US on a project she calls ‘Climbing for Peace.’ She wants to climb the seven highest peaks in the seven corners of the world---‘7 Summits’ is the term of the trade.”—Stanford Office Of International Affairs, 23 May>
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Ken G – August 4, 2013
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Re: seven corners of the world

Post by Erik_Kowal » Tue Aug 06, 2013 2:09 am

There may also be some interference resulting from the commonly-held notion that there are seven continents. My guess is that in this context, a continent is more likely than a sea to be regarded as a 'corner'. This seems to be supported by the types of references made in your citations, Ken.
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Re: seven corners of the world

Post by Ken Greenwald » Wed Aug 07, 2013 2:00 am

aaa
Erik, I agree that it is likely that when some see or hear seven corners of the world, especially in more recent times, they associate it with the seven continents no matter how old the quote. However, if Wikipedia is to be believed, the idea of seven continents didn’t appear until the 1950s (see below), which I find very surprising.

Here's the part of Wikipedia's write-up that deals with the evolution of the perceived number of continents (landmasses):
In 1507 Martin Waldseemüller published a world map, Universalis Cosmographia, which was the first to show North and South America as separate from Asia and surrounded by water. . . In the accompanying book Cosmographiae Introductio, Waldseemüller noted that the earth is divided into four parts, Europe, Asia, Africa and the fourth part which he named ‘America’. . .

From the late 18th century some geographers started to regard North America and South America as two parts of the world, making five parts in total. Overall though the fourfold division prevailed well into the 19th century.

Europeans discovered Australia in 1606 but for some time it was taken as part of Asia. By the late 18th century some geographers considered it a continent in its own right, making it the sixth (or fifth for those still taking America as a single continent).

Antarctica was sighted in 1820 and described as a continent by Charles Wilkes on the United States Exploring Expedition in 1838, the last continent to be identified, . . . An 1849 atlas labelled Antarctica as a continent but few atlases did so until after World War II.

From the mid-19th century, atlases published in the United States more commonly treated North and South America as separate continents, while atlases published in Europe usually considered them one continent. However, it was still not uncommon for American atlases to treat them as one continent up until World War II. . . .

From the 1950s, most U.S. geographers would divide the Americas into two continents. With the addition of Antarctica, this made the seven-continent model. . . .
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Ken – August 6, 2013
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Re: seven corners of the world

Post by Erik_Kowal » Wed Aug 07, 2013 3:46 am

This must be the Continental Divide I keep hearing about.
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Re: seven corners of the world

Post by Ken Greenwald » Wed Aug 07, 2013 5:12 am

aaa
Or it could be a case of incontinence!
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Ken – August 6, 2013
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Re: seven corners of the world

Post by Bobinwales » Wed Aug 07, 2013 2:44 pm

Could the Seven Seas come into the equation perhaps?
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Signature: All those years gone to waist!
Bob in Wales

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