Why Is The Earth Called That: Meaning And Origins Of The Name Of Our Planet

Why is our planet called "Earth" and why do we identify the soil with the same word? And what is it called in other languages? Spoiler: it is the name of the planet that derives from that of the soil and not vice versa.

Why Is The Earth Called That: Meaning And Origins Of The Name Of Our Planet

The name "Terra" in the Italian language is an exception compared to the names of the other planets, which derive from Greco-Roman mythology, and is closely connected to the word "terra" , which indicates the ground. "Earth", in fact, most likely derives from an Indo-European root , i.e. coming from a prehistoric language (or family of languages), the Proto-Indo-European, which gave rise to almost all the languages ​​of Europe and the Indian subcontinent.

More precisely, "Earth" is connected to the root with which the dry part of our planet was indicated. However, in Italian many words concerning the Earth derive from a Greek word: Ghe (think ge-logy, geo-graphy, Geo-pop). Also, the Planet is sometimes called by another word: " world" .

Also in many foreign languages ​​the name of the Earth is closely connected to that of the soil (for example in English: Earth and earth ), but in some cases the two concepts, "Terra" and "terra", have differentiated over the centuries and today they are referred to with different words.

The name Earth: the Indo-European origins

The Italian word "Terra" derives from the Latin Terra , from which the names of the Planet come in almost all the neo-Latin languages ​​(Spanish Tierra, French Terre, Portuguese Terra, etc.), but this explanation is not sufficient to understand the real meaning of the term. In fact, the origins of the Latin word must also be identified. The most accredited hypothesis has it that Terra derives from the Indo-European root tars , which means "to be dry"  (Latin and its derivatives belong to the Indo-European family of languages).

From the root tars derive words of modern languages ​​such as English thirst and German durst, which mean "thirst", the Italian "clear" and many others. Regarding the Earth, it is probable that originally tars and its derivatives indicated only the "dry part" of the planet and not the sea and then passed on to indicate the entire globe. The hypothesis is strengthened by the fact that in Latin and in the neo-Latin languages ​​the word "earth" indicates not only the planet, but also the soil .

Other ways to call the Earth that derive from Latin and Greek

In addition to "Earth", in Latin our planet could also be called Tellus , a synonym of Earth, from which in Italian derive the adjective "tellurico" and the noun "tellurium", which indicates a chemical element.

Many words relating to our planet, however, derive from ancient Greek , in which the Earth was called Ghe . From it come terms such as "geography" (literally writing, understood as a graphic representation, of the Earth), "geology" (study of the Earth), "geometry" (measurement of the Earth), etc. 

The name Terra is not connected to Greco-Roman mythology. It is true that in the religion of ancient Greece there was the goddess Gea (or Gaia)  and in Rome a goddess called Earth or Tellus , but the divinities derived from the Planet, of which they were considered the personification, and not the other way around.

Etymology in other languages

In other languages, the name of the planet has a different etymology from the neo-Latin one. In English, for example, the Planet is called Earth , which can also indicate the soil or the ground . Earth derives from a hypothetical root, ehorde or something similar, which in the ancient Germanic language indicated the earth understood as soil. The same root gave rise to the name of the Planet in many modern Germanic languages : German Erde, Dutch Aarde, Norwegian Jorden, etc. In the Germanic languages, however, many terms associated with the Earth come from Latin or Greek. In English, for example, there is the adjective terrestrial,which comes from the Latin Terra, and words like geography, geometry, etc., which come from the Greek Ghe.

Also in other linguistic families the name of the planet and that of the soil are closely connected. For example, in the Slavic languages  ​​the origin of the name is the ancient root zeme, which indicated the soil. Therefore "Earth" in Russian is Zemlja , in Polish Zlemia , etc. Similar is the situation in many languages ​​of the Far East and the Indian subcontinent , in which the name of the planet derives from words or roots that indicate the soil.

A similar, but not an alternative word: world

We often refer to our planet as "world", a word that derives from the Latin mundus. Originally, however, the term "world" was used to indicate  the vault of the sky and the stars  rather than the Earth.

The word is of uncertain origin and was perhaps connected to an Indo-European root, mh-nd, which meant "clean", "ordered", from which in Italian derive the verb "mondare", the adjective "world" (understood as " pure"), the word "garbage" (that is, unclean, dirty thing), etc. If this hypothesis is correct, the etymology of "world" is similar to that of the Greek word cosmos, which means "order" or "ordered". From cosmos derive not only our term "cosmos", as a synonym of the universe, but also words such as "cosmetics", "cosmetics", etc., referring to things and actions that "put things in order". The universe, in fact, was considered an "ordered" whole, in the sense that everything is in its place.

However, with the passage of time, "World" has taken on the meaning, which is prevalent today, of "all living things" , or, if used with a specification, of a set of "things" relating to a specific area ( the ancient world, the world of business, the new world, the world of physics, etc.). "World", in any case, is not synonymous with "Earth" and the two words are almost never interchangeable.

The names of the planets of the solar system

The etymology of the word Earth represents a unique case. In fact, the names of the planets of the solar system derive from those of the deities of paganism . In the Greco-Roman world only the five planets visible to the naked eye were known , which astronomers of the time called Mercury (from the name of the Roman god of commerce), Venus (goddess of love), Mars (god of war), Jupiter ( father of the gods) and Saturn (god of agriculture). These are names we still use today.

The other planets of the solar system were discovered in more recent times , but scholars have maintained the tradition of calling them by the name of pagan divinities: Uranus (god of the sky), identified in the eighteenth century ; Neptune (god of the sea), discovered in the 19th century. To these was added in 1930 Pluto (god of the underworld), which however since 2006 is no longer considered the ninth planet of the solar system, but has been "downgraded" to a dwarf planet.

The same system is used to name  natural satellites . For example, the two satellites of Mars are called Phobos and Deimos, names of the mythological figures who personified fear and terror; Jupiter's satellites have largely been baptized with the names of characters who, according to mythology, were connected for some reason to the father of the gods: Ganymede, Io, Europa , etc.
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