The Origin of “Earth”

The planet Earth gets its name from the Old English eorþe, meaning “dirt, soil, or country.” In Old English, it was also occasionally used as a verb meaning to bury or inter someone.

In Old English “earth” was also a word for the material human world, but it was more commonly known as Middangeard, as recorded in the Old English epic poem Beowulf.

In fact, it was the word Middengeard inspired the name of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth.

In Germanic mythology, which includes Old Norse and Anglo-Saxon legends among others, Middengeard or Midgard (as you’ve heard it told in stories and Marvel movies) is one of the Nine Worlds and the only one visible to humankind, it is surrounded by an impassable ocean, which is inhabited by the sea serpent Jormungandr, who is so huge that he encircles the world and grasps his own tail like a massive ouroboros.

Just like the Roman Terra and the Greek Gaia, it’s thought that Earth may have been personified as a goddess in Germanic mythology.

“Earth” is first recorded as the name of our planet in English in documents from the 1400s, as writings and research by Arabic, Indian and Greek astronomers, became more prevalent across Europe thanks to the invention of the printing press.

Image credit: Full Disk Earth, Apollo 17, 1972, fromThe New York Public Library on Unsplash

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