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Old 02-24-2013, 06:16 AM   #1
GlenBarrington
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Why do Science Fiction writers call Earth, "Terra"?

I know it's the Latin name for Earth. But it's always an English language book to which I refer. And it isn't really a word that has found its way into the English lexicon. I don't read science fiction in any other languages, is this an affectation found in other languages?

Not a huge issue, I know, but it has always struck me as odd. Does anyone have knowledge of why and when this started?
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Old 02-24-2013, 06:22 AM   #2
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Probably just to make logical naming convention get in line with other planets. All of them are in Latin too.
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Old 02-24-2013, 06:25 AM   #3
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Originally Posted by GlenBarrington View Post
I know it's the Latin name for Earth. But it's always an English language book to which I refer. And it isn't really a word that has found its way into the English lexicon.
The only benefit I can think of is that it's not English-language specific. Perhaps the future "world government" which is generally in place in such books doesn't want to have a bias towards any particular culture.

I would add in passing, that the corresponding adjective, "terrestrial", IS in the normal English lexicon.
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Old 02-24-2013, 06:36 AM   #4
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"Terra" opens the possibility for that old joke which claims that firmer is better. "Earth" is somewhat lacking in comedic potential.
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Old 02-24-2013, 06:48 AM   #5
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I don't really read much SciFi, but in Swedish language Tellus is used quite a lot and I think it's considered more of a "name" to our planet than "Earth" is. In Swedish it's very obvious because we don't capitalize our word for "Earth". Don't know if any of this applies to English though.
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Old 02-24-2013, 07:32 AM   #6
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Tellus and Tellurian are actually considered more "correct" (from an etylomolgy standpoint, anyway) but were mostly supplanted with Terra/Terran by SF writers of the '50s. I see an alternate spelling (Terrane) is credited first from an 1881 sf(?) work, though.
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Old 02-24-2013, 07:38 AM   #7
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Tellus and Tellurian are actually considered more "correct" (from an etylomolgy standpoint, anyway) but were mostly supplanted with Terra/Terran by SF writers of the '50s. I see an alternate spelling (Terrane) is credited first from an 1881 sf(?) work, though.
Even scientists don't always use etymologically correct words, though. For same strange reason, the correct adjective relating to Venus, "Venereal", seems to be rarely used by planetary scientists, with the horrible "Venusian" being favoured instead.
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Old 02-24-2013, 08:10 AM   #8
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Oh I agree, Harry. I was just pointing out that Terra/Terran seemed to "take over" (from a fictional "that's a 'human' from 'Earth'" standpoint) some time in the '50s. I believe earlier fiction often used Tellus/Tellurian in the same situations (not that there were huge numbers of fiction authors needing to use the terms in that manner before the '50s).
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Old 02-24-2013, 08:30 AM   #9
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For same strange reason, the correct adjective relating to Venus, "Venereal", seems to be rarely used by planetary scientists, with the horrible "Venusian" being favoured instead.
Perhaps because people tend not to speak of contracting Venusian diseases.

On a side note, why are Mobile Read's banners in German?
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Old 02-24-2013, 12:51 PM   #10
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SF uses Terra, as well as Sol and Luna because astronomers do. Those are the official names dating back centuries.

In common english usage we use earth, moon, and sun, but we also speak of solar system and lunar landings, implicitly acknowledging that those are the bodies' names. Any planetary satellite can be a moon but there is only one Luna. Any star can serve as a sun, but our home is Sol.

So the real question we should be asking isn't "why terra" but rather, "why earth at all"?

Besides, Terran sounds more substantial than earthling, less geeky than earthian, and less likely to be blacklisted in the bible-belt than earthy.
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Old 02-24-2013, 01:29 PM   #11
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SF uses Terra, as well as Sol and Luna because astronomers do. Those are the official names dating back centuries.
As a former professional astronomer, I have never, EVER, either heard or read of any astronomer using the names "Terra", "Sol", or "Luna" . The ruling body of astronomy, the IAU (International Astronomical Union) does not mandate names for the major planets, for the very simple reason that it's never been required to name one. Planetary naming is left up to countries - eg in the US, the body which does it is the US Geological Survey, and I'm afraid they've opted for good old "Earth", "Sun", and "Moon".
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Old 02-24-2013, 01:44 PM   #12
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SF uses Terra, as well as Sol and Luna because astronomers do. Those are the official names dating back centuries.
I have never heard an astronomer use the word Terra, and have rarely heard them say the words Sol and Luna. I've studied and taught astronomy for many years, so it's a safe bet I would have heard it used if it was used.
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Old 02-24-2013, 02:39 PM   #13
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Aren't these the latin words ? (Yes definitively).

Probably just to make it "look strange" The same as the sometimes weird spelling and stuff.
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Old 02-24-2013, 02:51 PM   #14
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Naming gets confusing otherwise, because every alien race calls their planet 'Dirt' or 'Ground' or some other kind of variant on 'Earth'.
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Old 02-24-2013, 03:04 PM   #15
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There is also the term "Solarius star system" from the fact that the sun is sometimes called 'sol.' I think it just seems to have a better sounding cadance when characters are talking about going to the Solarius star system to contact someone on Terra. Especially if the character is an alien with no direct ties to the earth.
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