Astronauts, Cosmonauts, Forget-Me-Nauts: A New Era of Space Aliases
Both “astronaut” and “cosmonaut” come from the Greek word, nautēs, which means, “sailor.” An “astronaut” is a “star-sailor,” while a “cosmonaut” is a “cosmos-sailor.”
From here, Greek words are abandoned to give us the Chinese taikonaut (from the Mandarin, tàikōng, “space”), the French spationaut (from the Latin, spatium, “space”), and the Indian vyomanaut (from the Sanskrit, vyomen, “sky”). No doubt, the fracturing of the terms has partly to do with a wish to verbally colonize the stars.
But no one seems to have yet dreamed up a flare for a space tourist—a “cosmonut,” perhaps. Such a person is a “spaceman,” but that is neither pc nor enough of a space oddity. The word “tourist” comes from the Old French tourn, which means, “turn.” Tourism involves rotating one’s position in space for a period of time, not necessarily with the intent of colonization.
After Solon rewrote the Athenian laws, he went on a long “journey abroad”—referred to by the Greek word, theōria—so that the Athenians wouldn’t ask him to change them. A theōria is literally a “seeing”; Solon went to go see. Maybe there will soon be spatiotheorists, “ones who go see space,” or spatiotours, where one can “take a turn in space.”
How do we keep a finger on the pulsar of the cosmic crib of space-acing cadets who will big-dipper us into a champagne supernova in the slang sky? Then again, generational slang easily falls down a black hole or becomes antimatter. I remember when there were more homies than baes. Despite the forget-me-nauts of slang fads, the twists and turns of language remain the unwitting engineers of word coinage. So, what is the meteorite term for a space tourist?
There are a number of words in Greek that mean, “to go,” in the sense of “to visit.” But we’d have to be careful not to pick one of the many for which “go” can be a euphemism for “die.” “Do not go gently into that good night…” Really, isn’t going into deep space equivalent to visiting a deep oblivion?
Since an “acrobat” is a person who walks up high (from the Greek bainein + acron), I suppose we could have an astrobat (star-walker) or a cosmobat (cosmos-walker). But maybe this is too much like dingbat (unrelated, except in sound). There is potentially spatiocrat (space-power), but that is too similar to the already existing “space queen,” which is space slang for a person who is absent-minded.
In Greek, the word for a “guest-friend” or “visitor” is xenos, which also carries the meaning of “alien” or “stranger.” So, perhaps a xenonaut could be a “strange-sailor.” But it would be hard to save the word from xenophobia; the Latin equivalent is hostis, which is related to the word, “hostile.” Still, the word “planet” comes from the Greek word planētēs, which means, “wandering.” Are we not all planets in space?
Let’s not even cling-on for a moment to the idea of a “Trekkie,” a “Luke Skywalker,” or a “Ziggy Stardust,” since these have already gone out of interplanetary fashion. Maybe the generic term “space alias” is nebular enough, since alius in Latin means “other” (and comes from the root, al-, “beyond”). Or maybe soon, my fellow asteroids, we will all have our own translunar space aliases.
Comet in the space below if you’ve got a better Buzz (Lightyear? Aldrin?) word.