Out of This Word: The Origins of 5 Intergalactic Terms

Space-related words have some of the most enchanting etymologies in the cosmos.

We call our galaxy the Milky Way because the stars and other matter that compose it look like milk splashed across the night sky. But did you know that’s also where the word “galaxy” itself comes from?

It originally comes from the Greek phrase galaxias kyklos, meaning “milky circle.” (Funny enough, that means that lactose, the sugar present in milk, is cognate with galaxy, meaning they share a root.)

The word “planet”—someone beautifully and wistfully—literally means “wandering” and originally comes from the Greek phrase asteres planetai, meaning “wandering stars.”

The word “nebula” was adopted directly from Latin, in which it meant “mist, vapor, or fog.”

Space and the universe are variably described as both “the cosmos,” and “chaos.”

The Greek verb kosmein meant “to order or arrange,” and the noun kosmos could mean either “order” or “an arrangement or decoration,” especially the decoration on a fancy dress.

The philosopher and mathematician Pythagoras, whom you may know as the inventor of the Pythagorean theorem, was the first to use “cosmos” to refer to the universe, possibly because the stars decorated the sky much like decorations on lavish fabric.

You might think of “chaos” as being the opposite of “order,” but in the context of the “chaos” of space, it means “emptiness.”

This word comes from the Greek khaos, meaning “abyss” or “that which is vast and empty.”

Chaos eventually came to mean confusion and disorder based on the idea of the supposed formless, primeval state of the universe before creation in religious mythology

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