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Word Wisdom: Contiguous

The latest inspirational column from Rev. Dr. John Kreutzwieser
Word Wisdom

Several years ago, I lived in Anchorage, Alaska for 12 months. One of the first things I learned was the term “the lower 48,” to describe the contiguous states of the United States of America. “We are going to the lower 48 to visit family,” was a frequent refrain to describe vacation plans.

Contiguous means being in actual contact, touching along a boundary or at a point. 48 of the states in the Union are in contact with each other in an unbroken chain. Alaska and Hawaii are freestanding states.

Contiguous derives from the Latin contiguus meaning adjacent or neighbouring. The Latin word is extracted from the verb contingere meaning to be in contact with.

Contiguous was first used in English in the early 1600s to refer to areas having a common boundary. Things like fields can be termed as contiguous if they are touching or connected in an unbroken sequence. Houses, which are referred to as row houses, are contiguous as they are joined to one another.

Mathematics adopted the term contiguous to describe two angles that have a common side and a common corner point, and don't overlap.

Eventually the meaning was expanded, and things or events were designated as contiguous if they are next to one another in time or sequence. The fires were contiguous with the earthquake. The teeth of the molar series gradually increase in size and complexity from first to last and are arranged in contiguous series.

Sometimes the word coterminous is used to designate the 48 contiguous states of the US. This is derived from the Latin terminus meaning boundary, marker, or limit. Voting districts that have the same boundary or are coincident (occupying the same space) are coterminous. The 48 states are coterminous because they are enclosed within one common boundary. Whereas Hawaii and Alaska are a distance from the common boundary.

Other words used as synonyms for contiguous are adjacent, adjoining, and juxtaposed. However, they contain subtle differences.

Adjacent implies an absence of the same kind and may or may not be in contact. The house has an adjacent garage. She lives adjacent to her in-laws.

Adjoining rooms at a hotel indicate meeting and touching at some point. But contiguous rooms imply contact on all or most of one side.

When things are placed side by side to permit comparison and contrast, they are juxtaposed. They need not be in contact with one another.

Our immediate family could be described as contiguous even though we live in three separate cities: Moose Jaw, Weyburn, and Hirakata (Japan). We cannot physically touch as we are separated by thousands of kilometres. Emotionally we have a contiguous existence as there is a strong bond between us, in constant contact with one another. That is an important aspect of family.

According to the Bible, marriage is a union of a man and a woman together in one flesh. This implies a contiguous emotional state between the partners that manifests itself in the children of the flesh and blood of the couple. The emotional bond enlarges as children marry and grandchildren are born and welcomed into the contiguous family, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

As society experiments with new definitions of marriage, the contiguous emotional aspect becomes of sole importance, independent of the physical. However, as bodily beings, divorcing the material from the emotional and spiritual must be thought through carefully.

John would like to know if anyone has a sincere interest in a relevant word that he could possibly research for an upcoming column. If so, please send your requests to Words will be selected according to relevance and research criteria. We cannot confirm that all words will be used.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the position of this publication. 


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