Archive for the ‘Capitalization’ Category

Why on Earth?

September 17, 2013

The title of a letter in the October Harper’s Magazine from Howard Passell (of the Earth Systems Analysis Department, Sandia National Laboratories
, Albuquerque NM):

Harper’s Magazine is one of the most progressive periodicals being published, yet it lingers in the dark ages when it comes to referring to the planet on which we live. In “Emptying the World’s Aquarium” [Letter from the Sea of Cortez, August], Erik Vance writes that “there is no better place on earth to look at the future of global fishing” than the Gulf of California. This is a story about what’s in the water, not in the soil, so the word “earth” is obviously incorrect. Referring to Earth as “earth” is a vestige of the Judeo-Christian legacy. You can’t have dominion over our planet or pillage it quite so easily if linguistically you put it on the same level as all the sacred words we capitalize. Please change your style. This is an egregious philosophical error in an otherwise excellent story on the decline of our Earth.

Yes, it’s a rant about capitalization. And it presumes that earth (so spelled) can have only one meaning (‘land’, as opposed to sea and sky) — this despite the fact that every dictionary and style sheet I’ve looked at treats the word as ambiguous between this ‘land’ sense and reference to our planet.