The City & The City: a glossary of useful terms

A short guide to some of the unusual invented words and phrases in new BBC Two drama The City & The City…

This article comes from Den of Geek UK.

A dead body, a cop, a missing woman and a conspiracy theory… A great deal of The City & The City is straightforwardly easy to grasp.

That said, you won’t be alone if you feel a little disoriented watching episode one. As well as being a noir thriller, this four-part China Miéville adaptation is an ambitious, high-concept mystery that plays on ideas of space and perception. To use a phrase that will no doubt be repeated to the point of tedium in coverage, it’s a tale of two cities: Besžel and Ul Qoma, both of which share the same geography but exist as separate entities. Those in Besžel have trained themselves to see only Besžel, and those in Ul Qoma have trained themselves to see only Ul Qoma.

Clear? If not, here are definitions of a few key terms to help you out with episode one…

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Besžel – a crumbling city of browns, greens, yellows and 1970s technology. Home to Inspector Tyodor Borlù of the Extreme Crime Squad.

Ul Qoma – a modern city of glass and steel, characterised by the colour red and neon blue light. Its geographical space overlaps with that of Besžel, but the two are entirely separate cities whose citizens have learned to ‘unsee’ the other in order not to risk invoking the fearsome Breach.

Breach – a secret cross-border police force under whose jurisdiction both Besžel and Ul Qoma fall. Breach ruthlessly police the borders between Besžel and Ul Qoma. Breach are easy to spot, says a ubiquitous poster, they look just like you and me. In cases of Breach (illegal movement or contact between the two cities), Breach ‘manifests’ and abducts the transgressing party.

Avert Decorum – the system that has taught citizens of both cities to ‘unsee’ and ‘unhear’ residents and features of the opposing city.

Besž – pronounced ‘beige’, the language spoken in Besžel (rendered as spoken and written English with Cyrillic elements and diacritics for the TV adaptation) and adjective for all things from the city of Besžel.

Illitan – the language spoken in Ul Qoma. In its written form, in the TV adaptation, it uses the Georgian alphabet.

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Total – zones belonging entirely to the city of the observer.

Alter – zones belonging entirely to the other, unseen city.

Crosshatch – liminal zones in which citizens of both cities can exist, though ‘unseeing’ each other.

Disputed Zone – an area to which neither city lays official claim.

Cupola Hall – “the neutral heart of both cities”, an official building that exists both in Besžel and Ul Qoma, where The Oversight Committee sits. Beneath Cupola Hall is the official border through which citizens may, with the appropriate paperwork, travel between Besžel and Ul Qoma.

The Oversight Committee – a joint committee comprising Besz and Ul Qoman officials that, among other responsibilities, decides whether or not to invoke Breach in a given criminal case.

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Unifs – political activists who campaign to unite the two cities of Besžel and Ul Qoma. They stage protests and spray paint their symbol on walls.

Major Syedr – a hard-right nationalist politician, leader of the Nationalist Bloc party.

TCs – or ‘True Citizens’, a hard-right group connected to Major Syedr’s Natbloc party.

Gunterstrasz – a disputed zone near the site on which the dead body of a young woman is discovered, and the last place Inspector Borlù’s wife Katyrina was seen before she disappeared.

Bowdenite – a disciple of Professor David Bowden, the controversial academic whose book, ‘Between The City and The City’, positing the idea of a third hidden city between Besžel and Ul Qoma, is illegal in Besžel.

Orciny – the name David Bowden gave to the proposed third city between Besžel and Ul Qoma.

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When in Besžel, see Besžel– and when in Ul Qoma, see only Ul Qoma. An official Besž mantra, displayed all over the city and handed out to tourists from outside the cities (who have to submit to a fortnight of ‘unseeing’ training before being allowed to enter either city).

Be safe – a Besž slogan

Trust in Breach – a slogan seen on posters in Besžel and recited by members of The Oversight Committee.

Four-part adaptation The City & The City starts on BBC Two on Friday the 6th of April at 9pm.