Knowing the origin of words and phrases helps us remember them and use them appropriately in various contexts. About two decades ago, I came across the word ‘Camelot’ while reading a literary text. As it was my habit to find out the etymology (the derivation of a word), I referred to a book and learnt the origin of the term and what it means in modern English. Recently, I came across the word used in the title of an article by Pritish Nandy. The title is Modi offers a new Camelot.
The word ‘Camelot’ refers to the place where legend King Arthur held his court. According to Arthurian legend, ‘Camelot’ was the capital of King Arthur’s kingdom and during his reign, truth, goodness and beauty reigned in the capital. Everyone there was happy. There is no historical evidence to prove whether King Arthur and Camelot existed. Camelot is an imaginary setting for fiction writers. According to Arthurian scholar Norris J Lacy, “Camelot, located nowhere in particular, can be anywhere.” Historically, the term ‘Camelot’ also refers to the period between 1961-1963, considered golden age or exciting time of change in USA, when John F Kennedy was the president. Americans were inspired by Kennedy’s speeches, vision and policies.
The term also refers to a place associated with glittering romance and optimism. According to www.thefreedictionary.com, Camelot is a place or time of idealised beauty, peacefulness, and enlightenment. Nandy uses the term poetically. What he means is that Narendra Modi tries to make us believe he would make India a great nation if he was elected the prime minister of the country.
The title can be interpreted in two ways. The word ‘Camelot’ has positive as well as negative connotations. Those who look at the title of the article positively will say that Modi symbolises hope, happiness and peace. Those who look at it negatively will come to the conclusion that Modi symbolises Utopia, impracticality, unreality.
The modern meaning of the word is described beautifully in the musical, Camelot. John F Kennedy’s widow Jacqueline quoted the following lines from the musical after the assassination of JFK: Don’t let it be forgot, that once there was a spot, for one brief shining moment, that was known as Camelot … There’ll be great Presidents again, but there’ll never be another Camelot again…
How is the word pronounced? The first syllable “Ca” is pronounced like the ‘ca’ in cat and the second syllable “me” is pronounced like ‘ma’ in machine and the final syllable “lot” is pronounced like the word ‘lot’. The stress is on the first syllable: CA-me-lot. Here are some examples:
• How nice it will be if our school becomes a Camelot!
• Indian politicians are capable of making us believe that India can be made a Camelot.
• We’ll have to wait and see whether Modi can become a Camelot.
In this context, let me introduce another word that is synonymous with Camelot: ‘Utopia’. Utopia is a state of mind or an ideal or imaginative place where everything is perfect. It is a system of political or social perfection. The word was first used by Sir Thomas More in 1516 in his book, Utopia.
Dr Albert P’ Rayan is an ELT resource person and associate professor at KCG College of Technology, Chennai