Our bags are "virtually" packed

“So go we shall. Next week. Our bags are virtually packed.”–WHEN WE WERE ORPHANS by Kazuo Ishiguro

The adverb “virtually” means “almost” or “nearly”, but many of us cannot understand this. The expression “virtual reality” tends to be translated into “仮想現実” in Japanese. We tend to associate the word “virtual” with imaginary(仮想の) things. I think that “virtual reality” does not mean “unreal reality” but “almost-real reality”.

Interesting question.

I would say the key difference between the two is that for packing there is a “degree” of packedness so that one can be nearly packed, which is conceptually the same as packed.
But for “reality” there is only one true reality so that almost real or virtually real is just a false one, just like in criminal law the defendant is either guilty or not guilty - there is no “somewhat” or “almost” guilty.
So, “virtual reality” is just a false reality even though “virtual” has different meaning in other contexts. The term “virtual” suggests that the imaigined or simulated false reality does feel very much like the real one, but the Japanese term 仮想現実 simply emphasizes the “falseness” of it. But then over the years of usage it also acquired the connotation of being perceived like the real thing.

In short, I think both words do their job just fine. They just have different emphasis.

1 Like

I am with @userstk: interesting question.

Something is virtually done, when it is very nearly done, only needing a few more items to be thrown into the suitcase. We tend to use “nearly”, “practically”, “virtually”, or “as good as” to describe this degree of having done the packing.

Virtual reality is a separate “reality”, something imagined, akin to a dream. These days there is the virtual reality of online games which can appear quite real to the players, part of their life. [Some people argue there is no fixed reality at all, in any case, and what we are experiencing as reality, is always a construct of our mind …]

1 Like

‘Virtual’ means “in essence, but not in fact.”

The word ‘virtually’ has been used in advertising in the past. Cascade used to advertise that their dishwasher detergent’s “sheeting action” gets dishes “virtually spotless.” (Don’t ask me what “sheeting action” means.)

I think within the context of the story, it is meant to convey that figuratively their bags are already packed, i.e. the people in the story feel that they are ready to go; they are mentally prepared to make their journey. I don’t think it is meant to convey that their luggage is “nearly” packed or literally packed to any degree at all.

Virtual reality has the feeling or ‘essence’ of reality, but is not ‘in fact’ reality.