On the Shelf

By Paul Guffin

Earth and Its Day

As most of us possibly know, most of the planets in our solar system are named after Roman gods and goddesses (who, in their turn, were based on the Greek pantheon). Thus, moving outward from the sun:

  • Mercury, which travels the shortest orbit of all the planets, is named after the Roman messenger god who was known for his ability to travel quickly, due to the wings on his feet;
  • Venus, being the brightest object in our sky, is named after the goddess of love and beauty;
  • Mars, also called the “Red Planet”, is named after the Roman god of war, red being the color of blood and war;
  • Jupiter, the largest planet in the solar system, is named after the supreme god of the ancient Romans;
  • Saturn, with its abundance of moons, is named after the king of the Titans, who ruled before
  • Jupiter, and was also the god of agriculture and abundance;
  • Uranus, which was originally named Georges Star after King George III of England, is named after the original Roman sky god;
  • Neptune, thought for many years to lie on the edge of the solar system, is named after the Roman god of the sea; and,
  • poor disrespected Pluto, dark and cold, is named after the brother of Jupiter and Neptune, and the god of the underworld.

Of course, taking its place between the orbits of Venus and Mars is Earth. This is where the “most of the planets” being named after Roman gods comes to an end, because the planet on which we live is the only one in our solar system that doesn’t have a Greek-Roman etymological heritage. Here’s how the naming of our planet is described on the “HowStuffWorks” website (https://science.howstuffworks.com/who-named-planet-earth.htm):

“The word “earth” has roots in the Old English term ‘eorþe.’ Eorþe had multiple meanings like ‘soil,’ ‘dirt,’ ‘ground,’ ‘dry land’ and ‘country.’ Yet the story didn’t begin there. Old English is the earliest known phase of what became our modern English tongue. Used until about 1150 C.E., it evolved from a parent language that scholars call ‘Proto-Germanic.’ The German that’s spoken today is part of the same linguistic family. ‘Earth’ and ‘eorþe’ are therefore related to the modern German word ’Erde.’ Not only is this the German language’s name for our home planet, but it can also be used to refer to dirt and soil. Our dear Earth has relatives in some other languages, too. For example, there’s the Old Saxon ‘ertha,’ the Old Frisian ‘erthe’ and the Dutch word ‘aarde.’ All these likely descend from a Proto-Germanic term that was never recorded. (As far as we know.) Nevertheless, linguists have been able to go back and reconstruct this mystery word. Spelled ‘ertho’ in scholarly texts, it’s always preceded by an asterisk. This asterisk acknowledges the lack of written confirmation that the word was really used. Nobody knows when people started using words like ‘Earth’ or ‘Erde’ to refer to the planet as a whole and not just the ground they walked on … if a single person gave planet Earth its English name — which is unlikely to say the least — his or her identity has been lost to the sands of time.”

This Friday, April 22, is the 52nd incarnation of Earth Day. As I contemplate how best to honor the Earth on that (and every) day, I remember a friend of mine, who is a songwriter of earthy subjects, and the opening words of his song, “The Earth Does Not Belong to Us”:

“The Earth does not belong to us. We belong to the Earth.

Oh, let the animals teach you, the birds of the air, the

plants declare!

The Earth does not belong to us. We belong to the Earth.

Tell me, who had made the measure of the Earth you call

your home?

Tell me, who prescribed the boundaries? Surely you

know?

Is it all for human pleasure the oceans crash and foam

And the rivers source the storehouses of snow?

Can your mind comprehend the vastness of the Earth?

You did not weave the web, you’re merely a strand.

Were you there to lay the cornerstone?

Was it you who drew the line, beyond which we cannot

understand?”

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