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Earthlings (also known as Earthers or Gaians, or Terrans) are inhabitants of planet Earth. The word is first attested in this sense in the 1590s, and was used in science fiction as early as 1949, in Red Planet by Robert A. Heinlein.


Historically, the term earthling referred to a mortal inhabitant of the Earth as opposed to spiritual or divine entities. In Early Modern English, the word was used with the intention of contrasting "earth" with "heaven", and so presenting man as an inhabitant of the sublunary sphere, as opposed to heavenly creatures or deities.[1] The derivation from the noun earth by means of the suffix -ling is already seen in Old English yrþling, in the meaning "ploughman". The sense of "inhabitant of earth" is first attested in the 1590s.[2] It was used in science fiction as early as 1949, in Red Planet by Robert A. Heinlein.

The word man and human has the same imposed meaning, since it originates from a Proto-Indo-European word *ǵʰmṓ "earthling" < *dʰéǵʰōm "earth". Compare Latin homo "human" and humus "earth, soil".[3]

Modern use[edit]

Its modern use in science fiction literature contrasts Earth (the planet) with outer space or hypothetical other planets with sapient life. The term was often used in 1950s science fiction film and novels by aliens to express a disdainful or patronizing tone towards creatures from Earth. The meaning "creature from planet Earth" in the context of space travel may be extended to non-human species, as in "Russia fetes dog Laika, first earthling in space".[4]

In some science fiction media (such as the Star Trek franchise and the 2014 movie Guardians of the Galaxy) the term Terran is used as a term for humans, stemming from terra, the Latin word for Earth. Others, such as The Expanse, use the word "Earther." In the original run of the BBC series Doctor Who, the phrase tellurian is used.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Thomas Nashe, Christ's Tears (1593, 1613), p. 124: "Wee (of all earthlings) are Gods vtmost subiects.";
    Drummond of Hawthornden, Poems (1711), p. 31 (written ca. 1630): "Nature gaz'd on with such a curious eye, That earthlings oft her deem'd a deity."
    Cited after Oxford English Dictionary.
  2. ^ Harper, Douglas. "earthling". Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved 18 August 2018.
  3. ^ De Vaan, Michiel (2008). "humus". Etymological Dictionary of Latin and the other Italic Languages. Leiden Indo-European Etymological Dictionary Series. Leiden, Boston: Brill. p. 292.
  4. ^ Solovyov, Dmitry; Pearce, Tim (ed.) (11 April 2008). "Russia fetes dog Laika, first earthling in space". Reuters.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)