What Happened to the Concept of ‘The Realm’?

Eddie Ejjbair
2 min readMay 19, 2024

While watching the TV series Shogun, I noticed that the word ‘realm’ kept cropping up. Why, I thought, do we not use this word anymore? Why does it only appear in historical fiction or fantasy? Does it have something to do with its etymological origin in kingship? If so, why is the UK not referred to as a realm?

While attempting to answer these questions, I thought about what the word evokes. Immediately, I thought of maps. More specifically, the sort of maps found in high fantasy (e.g. LOTR). These maps are usually quite simple, made up of many kingdoms and, most importantly, they’re incomplete. In my mind, the realm, like the incomplete maps, refer to a known landmass, bordered on all sides by the unknown. This, I thought, is why we don’t have realms anymore. It’s because we don’t have any uncharted areas.

To support my random thoughts with some sort of data, I checked the Google n-gram viewer for uses of the word ‘realm’ from 1500 (the earliest it goes back) to 2019 (the latest). Here’s what I found:

Just as I assumed, the uses go down sometime in the mid-eighteenth century, which (after a quick Google search) I found is also around the time that the continents were first fully charted.

The concept of ‘the realm’, it turns out, is constituted more by what is unknown than what is known. Arguably, the opposite of this is what eventually replaced the realm as the constitutive unit of space: the ‘nation’. But more on that elsewhere…

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Eddie Ejjbair

‘Gradually it’s become clear to me what every great philosophy has been: a personal confession of its author and a kind of involuntary and unconscious memoir’