A colleague, Rob Tilley, noted that he came across the word virch in Bruce Stirling’s novel Holy Fire: “Why don’t you hang up and virch in through our primary server.”
And what would this virch be? It rather looks like it might be someone’s family name, and in fact it is a surname, but that’s not the source of this word. Nor is it from “Nautron respoc lorni virch,” a phrase which Captain Nemo said every morning on scanning the horizon from the Nautilus in Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (and what does nautron respoc lorni virch mean, and in what language? Probably something like “we have nothing in sight,” in language invented by Verne, though nautron makes me think of sodium and respoc anagrams corpse).
Still, a nautilus may have something to do with this word, just glancingly. Hold a nautilus shell (if you have one) to your ear and what do you hear? Where does it take you? I think Jamaica in the moonlight, sandy beaches, drinking rum every night…
Ah, yes, that great song of imaginary travel, “American Dream,” by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. It puts me in mind of another one such, by the Moody Blues: “The Best Way to Travel,” from In Search of the Lost Chord: “And you can fly high as a kite if you want to, faster than light if you want to… Speeding through the universe, thinking is the best way to travel.”
And then there’s “The Inner Light,” by The Beatles: “Without going out of my door, I can know all things on earth; without looking out of my window, I can know the ways of heaven. The farther one travels, the less one knows.” As if to illustrate the point somehow, the song is in a very much Indian musical style and instrumentation (rather charmingly done, a George Harrison special)… while the words, as it happens, are cribbed directly from chapter 47 of the Tao Te Ching, the great (and brief) Chinese classic of Taoism ascribed to Lao Tzu (Laozi).
It gets even better. When I open my visually appealing copy of the translation by Gia-Fu Feng and Jane English to chapter 47, I see that it is illustrated by a view from above of steps down a spiral staircase… looking ever so reminiscent of a chambered nautilus shell. So we have made a tour and returned where we started. Because we never left.*
And how can you do that? Well, virtual reality is one way – like the holodeck in Star Trek, or something a bit less fancy (just put on the hologram headset and it’s like dreaming… careful not to move your body unduly; that would be like singing along with the music on your earphones. In fact, for a little travel within your mind, just put on your earphones and click around the web…). But the trip of the tongue from beginning to end of virtual reality is so long… And we know the tongue is a lazy thing; for example, it takes (or has long since taken) the stop and off-glide (“ty”) in virtual and turns (turned) them into an affricate (“ch”). So it might prefer to leave you in the lurch and stop at “virch”. Which is where this word comes from. It’s not a pretty word, true, and it may sound trendy, but it’s hardly the first truncation ever in English – or the first verbing (just like that, a thing becomes an action!). And it gets you where you want without unnecessary travel.
Ao largo ainda arde
A barca da fantasia
E o meu sonho acaba tarde
Acordar é que eu não queria
“Afar still burns / the barge of fantasy / my dream ends late / I didn’t want to wake up.” (Thanks to Eliza Mogha for that translation, from comments at the YouTube video I’ve linked to above.)
*There’s a travel agency in Toronto called Zen Travel. My idea of Zen travel is that they tell you that you already are where you want to go.