Mundane

It’s hardly complimentary to refer to something as mundane.

Yet if I referred to someone as worldly, that would be a compliment. Which is odd, because mundane and worldly basically mean the same thing.

Mundane literally means of this world, coming from the Old French mondain, itself from the Latin mundus, meaning world.

I suppose the contrast between the two words isn’t too strange though. If we say something’s mundane, we’re contrasting it with the heaven(s), or the cosmos on a grand scale.

But while on this scale, the world might seem quite small and insignificant, it’s still pretty big, from our perspective. So if someone’s worldly, they’ve got the experience and sophistication of someone who understands the ways of the world, perhaps from having travelled to many of the places on this vast planet.

It’s tempting to say that the world seems a lot smaller and more, well, mundane in modern times, since we’ve learned more about the universe, and our role in its immensity. To be honest though, we’ve always seemed to have seen the planet as simulatenously vast and awesome, and quite physical and everyday. Mundus in Latin, for example, could also mean universe as well as world. And I’ve already talked about how the Old English word for soil, dirt, or ground has come to be used as the name of this planet.

And a lot of our expressions still indicate how we still see the world as our universe. If we say someone’s our whole world, it’s not like we’re saying they’re an insignificant pebble in an almost empty and infinite vacuum.

Even if the endless cosmos understandably fascinates us, there’s still plenty of wonder to be found here on Earth too.

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