How Did Earth Get Its Name?

Have you ever wondered why Earth is called Earth? Or why Earth has a name that, unlike other planets, is not connected to mythology and the gods?

It’s an interesting etymological question, and one with a surprisingly simple answer…

Why is Earth Called Earth?

Linguists believe that the first cave dwelling humans used a word or intonation (for example, a grunt) that sounded much like the modern word “Earth.” This sound is likely to have developed when the first humans tried to graze — much like cattle.

The early humans, including Neanderthals and cave dwellers, were not physically developed to graze for long periods. This led to grazing fatigue, which typically resulted in the stooped or kneeling cave man or woman slumping or collapsing forward, mouth open in surprise.

The cave person’s open mouth would sink into the mud or turf in front of them, filling with leaves and earth. This undesirable event was accompanied by a sound of displeasure, typically written as “uurff” or “urrff” by linguists.

Despite the awful taste of earth, early humans continued to chew on it, accidentally or just to pass the time, for hundreds of years.

Over the centuries, the sound “uurff” became so associated with the actual earth that it became a standard and widespread (inter-tribal) vocalization for the concept of solid ground (and, incidentally, for bad tasting food and inedible things, a meaning since lost).

Thousands of years later, this same vocal sound became the standard word (spoken and written) used to refer to the entire body of earth, which is how our planet became known as Planet Earth.

Cave dwellers sharing earth

A sketch from “Ancient Linguistics” by Francis Bartholomew Drudge, 1912.

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