DISTANCE MEANINGS -Issues of Design 28

Post 702 –by Gautam Shah


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Distance has TWO fundamental involvements, One, where we judge farness of a perceptible object, and Two, where we gauge the ‘apartness of two things from each other. In both instances the distance is primarily a comparison and so scaled quantity, but it could be the intensity of the subjective sense of perception. Distance tells us about the intervening space. Distance is a measure of how far away an object is from other things. Displacement is magnitude how much an object has been displaced from its original location and in which direction the shift has occurred. In this sense Distance is a scalar whereas Displacement is a vector quantity.

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The word Distāre (Latin) derives from the root ‘sta’ =to stand, make or be firm and also meant to stand apart. Another older variant Distaunce of 13-14 C =a dispute, controversy, civil strife, rebellion, disagreement, discord, strife. Destance of old French =discord, quarrel. Distantia of Latin =a standing apart. Distantem a nominative distans = standing apart, separate, distant. Modern version Distance =remoteness of space, extent of space between two objects or places, an interval of time, remote part of a field of vision.

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Further and Farther are two confusing words. Further is older, and it had originally nothing to do with far. The word far was loaded with -er to become farrer. This was difficult to use orally. There were two other words nearby, fore or forth. In other words, further didn’t originally mean ‘more distant’ but something like ‘more ahead’, or, as the contemporary Oxford Dictionary states it, ‘more forward, more onward’.

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Distance is a measurement in numerical form of how far apart the objects are and also a proportionate measure or ratio. The numerical values are unattached or unconditional (absolute) so in nominal conditions ‘distance from A to B’ and from B to A are the same and interchangeable’.

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Greek Aristarchus (310-230 BC) was the first to estimate the Earth to Sun distance by measuring the angular separation of the Sun and Moon. The first reasonably accurate measurement of the Earth-Sun distance was made by Cassini in 1672. Scientifically accurate distance can be measured, if there is a bounce back (reaction). Apollo missions positioned reflectors to bounce a pulse of a laser. Radiations or physical changes on an interstellar body reach differently to such reflectors on earth and moon, permitting computation of distance.


Spatial remoteness is a separation of sensorial nature with some emotional flavour. The separation may also indicate the difference or disparity between two real or abstract things, thoughts or cognition. The separation or remoteness allows wider view and adds the capacity to observe issues dispassionately. Meaning of remoteness, indicating the space between things, places or events is of late 14c origin. Remoteness is the figurative sense of aloofness.

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If distance refers to the existence of physical space between two objects, then to measure that one can use the time to transverse the interval. The remoteness or closeness of a thing or happening can be a measure of reach of the human body limbs and sensorial nodes. The reach offers tools for intervention, offense and defense.

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The human reach was reflected in word Distantia (Latin root of distance) which meant standing apart (or away) from quarrels, estrangements, discords or strife. This term Distantia refers to a spatial distance, but also indicate the effects of it.


A shouting distance, within ear shot, shouting distance, within sniffing distance, under one’s nose, all relate to sensorial capacities, whereas cheek by jowl, hand in hand, near at hand, hand in glove, within striking distance, walking distance, within spitting distance, stones throw away, cheek by jowl, shoulder to shoulder is limbs related distancing characteristics. There are few terms where the distance is traversing in time like the impending disaster, imminent, upcoming event, relapse and longing. Distance is more pronounced when two people turn away from each other. This is an attempt to disorient the sensorial nodes.

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Distances seem finite where the definitive entities like under a single sky or roof, or within a bounded terrain (plaza, public square). Distances are less daunting where destinations are within sensorial reach.

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Relationships involving hate or love are reflected in the intervening distance. Distance sometimes lets you know who is worth keeping, and who is worth letting go (-Lana Del Rey). But, now the relationships are bridged by means of communication and presence through virtual adjacency. In the past when distances were measured in time, such as lunches required or horses feed station on the way. And that is why ‘time was the longest distance between two places’ (Tennessee Williams).The big picture doesn’t just come from distance; it also comes from time’ (Simon Sinek).

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Distance blurs the scene but then everything seems simpler from a distance’ (-Gail Tsukiyama). Distance not only gives nostalgia, but perspective, and maybe objectivity’ (Robert Morgan). And indeed, Louis L’Amour finds distance lends perspective and I often write better of a place when I am some distance from it. One can be so overwhelmed by the forest as to miss seeing the trees’.

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This is the 28th article (in continuation of old series -new beginning) on ISSUES of DESIGN.