“Language is an imprecise tool. Sometimes it buckles a little under the strain of meaning.”
There’s a lot of earth in this issue, thanks mainly to our feature interview (page 34) with the wonderful Felicia Cocotzin Ruiz, whose new book is called Earth Medicine.
That got me thinking about the persistent editorial riddle of when to capitalize earth/ Earth. The basic grammatical rule is that Earth is a planet. Everything else is earth. Farmers put seeds in the earth. From space, astronauts can see Earth.
Cocotzin Ruiz’s book Earth Medicine is about earth medicine. I suppose Earth medicine would involve a 1,000-mile-long needle that could put a vaccine into planet Earth.
In her Creaturely Reflections column, Sarah Bowen writes about the first images of Earth from space (page 76). Clearly we’re talking big E. These images inspired people to feel more deeply connected to ... Earth? or earth?
I don’t think that there’s a right answer. People felt more connected to the planet Earth and grew more aware on a gut level that we live on an actual globe hurtling through space. People also felt more connected to the abstract, less scientific earth: The thin layers of breathable air and tillable soil that gild the planet Earth, our earthly home on ... Earth.
But a choice has to be made, and either a capital or a lowercase letter has to end up on the page. It’s a good reminder that language is an imprecise tool. Sometimes it buckles a little under the strain of meaning. For example, our authors often use idiosyncratic capitalization to convey their ideas. Rabbi Rami Shapiro’s
Roadside Assistance column (page 9) offers this: “While I don’t consider any scripture to be true, I do find Truth in all of them.” The capital T is vital to his meaning. As another example, Kevin Anderson writes about the small-i self and the large-I Self in his Soul of Therapy column (page 12).
A suggestion for while you read this issue: Try experimenting to see how small changes in language have a huge impact on meaning. What happens if you put a word in quotation marks? Add an ellipsis?
Write to us at [email protected] and let us know. And as always, reach out to let us know what’s on your mind ... or on your Mind ... or on your “mind.”