The earth is flat

I tend to sing the praises of Chicago (by which I mean the Manual of Style, not the city—although I have nothing against the city, I once spent a really fantastic Fourth of July there). When a style point seems strange, I tend to blame house style rather than Chicago. Surely someone just perverted the somewhat pure intent of Chicago. Boy was I wrong last week.

I’d always thought that the word “earth” is lower-cased when you’re talking about dirt or land, but capitalized when you are referring to the planet on which we live. This is logical. But see what Chicago has to say about the matter.

In nontechnical contexts the word earth, in the sense of our planet, is usually lowercased when preceed by the or in such idioms as “down to earth”…When used as the proper name of our planet, especially in context with other planets, it is capitalized and the is usually omitted. (8.139, Chicago 16)

What could possibly be the difference between “in the sense of our planet” and “the proper name of our planet”? The examples don’t help.

The astronauts have returned successfully to Earth.

This makes sense. “Earth” is clearly a planet here. But what about this one?

The gender accorded to the moon, the sun, and the earth varies in different mythologies.

The sun, moon, and earth are all bodies in the solar system. This is not a generic use of the word earth. Why on earth (sorry) isn’t it capitalized? Surely whether you throw a “the” in front of the word or not doesn’t determine its capitalization.

What am I missing?


2 responses to “The earth is flat

  1. Earth should be capitalized in this sentence. More interestingly, why don’t we call our moon anything? That’s like calling your pet dog, dog.

    • So true. All other planetary satellites (natural and manmade) have names. Although the moon was named before we knew about other planets, much less their satellites. There was still a failure of imagination somewhere along the line.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s