Monday, August 25, 2003

The Map Certainly Isn't the Territory

Here's what I want, and I expect someone out there in web land to do it for me. It doesn't seem like too much to ask.

For decades, if not centuries, people have been complaining or arguing about the accuracy of various projections of global maps. One projection makes Greenland too big, one projection splits the ocean in half, one projection distorts the shapes of continents, one projection makes my butt look big. Whatever. These all miss the point that our maps are blemished with an enormous set of inaccuracies: the names of countries are wrong.

I want a map of the world with the actual names of countries on it. If you look at a typical American-produced map, it's full of countries with names like "Germany" and "India" and "Greece" and "China" and "Japan" and "Hungary" and "Egypt," etc. etc. etc. You might not think that's strange, but the fact is that there are no such countries. Sure, we in the English speaking world may have been calling certain countries by those names, but it's not what the people who live there call them. This is ridiculous. It's time to get rid of at least one vestige of colonialism and produce an accurate map.

I talked to someone at National Geographic about this once, reasoning that if anyone could make a change like that, it's them, but they declined. They did say that they had begun to start labeling cities with their actual names ("Kolkata" for Calcutta, or "Mumbai" for Bombay, for instance), but they were not going to change country names. Bah! I say. They're supposed to be an educational institution. Well, educate us Westerners the single, most basic fact about these countries: what their name is.

P.S. the real names of those countries are: Deutchland, Bharat, Hellas, Chungguo, Nihon, Magyar, and Misr. There are many others, not even counting subtle misspellings like Turkiye, Rossiya, and Espana.