“Sometimes a travel story can circumvent the entire world.”

I guess such a story would be called a “space story,” or in the olden days, a “science fiction story.”

Or nowadays, of course, a narrative of an astronaut’s adventure.

I think my student had something more like Around the World in Eighty Days in mind, or perhaps a story describing someone’s round-the-world cruise. “Circumnavigate” might have been in his mind. I don’t think he meant that the story itself could circum-whatever the world; I think he was talking about stories wherein the characters traveled extensively.

Technically, Webster’s definition “to make a circuit around” might look workable for the student’s intention. But other dictionaries, and common usage among people who know the meanings of words, make clear that to circumvent is to avoid  by going around, as those helpful highway branches that go around cities help us avoid the inevitable gridlock within— or those tricky stratagems by which we get around rules we don’t like make our lives easier.

The primary definition in all the dictionaries I can amass in a moment is to surround or entrap. To besiege a city an army might begin by circumventing it: they come around the hapless polis. Veni, I came. Circum, all around you! Conquest, ideally, follows. Veni, Circumveni, Vici!

And all the definitions include an implication of stealth, trickery, or malice. Even those who merely avoid a city do it in a sneaky way, or maliciously. The more definitions one reads, the worse my poor student’s sentence becomes.

The travel story, then, might be a tale wherein space aliens surround the globe for the purpose of conquering it.

Better, sometimes, to forget those fancy Latin derivations and write some nice Anglo-Saxon sentences. “Sometimes a travel story can take the reader all around the world.” That one, even an honest person could read.

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About RAB

Teacher of English writing and literature (college-level); academic-freedom activist; editor and copy editor; theater director, costumer, actress, playwright. View all posts by RAB

2 responses to ““Sometimes a travel story can circumvent the entire world.”

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