Created By: AFP on April 12, 2011 Last Edited By: IchigoMontoya on December 17, 2014

Planet Dirt

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Trope
Do We Have This One??

Ah, those humans. A very proud people, with a powerful military, ambitious merchants, expanding their influence throughout the universe. Truly, they must be very special. It does seem that they really dropped the ball when they decided on what to call their homeworld. Earth.

You know, as in "Dirt."

This trope is for when a homeworld, rather than being named for its people, or having some other poetic or epic name, is named for what it was known as back before anyone traveled in space. Essentially, dirt, rock, soil, or even earth. At some point in a culture's development, they never got around to changing the name of their homeworld to something more impressive sounding.

Related to Planet Terra.

Examples

  • Babylon 5 is the Trope Namer, with the narrator of the novelization of the Made-for-TV film In The Beginning remarking on how the humans of that universe, for a time, seemed to be uniquely uninspired when it came to how they approached things, naming their planet for the stuff you walk on.
  • In Star Control II: The Ur-Quan Masters, you meet an alien race, the Supox, who claim to be from the planet Earth. Not your Planet Earth, but rather one on the far corner of the quadrant. It just so happened that this was how the Universal Translator decided to translate their name, being derived from their word for "Perfectly good and nutritious dirt".
  • One of the human colonies in Space: Above and Beyond was named Tellus. Which is, of course, an alternate Latin name for Earth.
  • In The Stainless Steel Rat books, no one really remembers if the ancient Earth That Was was called "Dirt" or "Earth".
  • Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen has Jetfire saying that Earth is a terrible name for a planet and may as well be called "Planet Dirt".
  • Subverted in Ursula K. Le Guin's novel The Word For World Is Forest. All sentient species in the universe are descended from the Hainish people (including humans on Earth), who generally use the word "dirt" in different languages for the various inhabited planets. The planet Athshe, however, is an exception. Athshe is inhabited by modified Hainish people who live in trees. Their word for the world is "forest".
Community Feedback Replies: 36
  • April 12, 2011
    Duncan
    In The Stainless Steel Rat books, no one really remembers if the ancient Earth That Was was called "Dirt" or "Earth".
  • April 12, 2011
    zerky
    Subverted in Ursula K Le Guin's novel The Word For World Is Forest. All sentient species in the universe are descended from the Hainish people (including humans on Earth), who generally use the word "dirt" in different languages for the various inhabited planets. The planet Athshe, however, is an exception. Athshe is inhabited by modified Hainish people who live in trees. Their word for the world is "forest".
  • April 12, 2011
    foxley
    In the tabletop RPG Hunter Planet (about aliens coming to Earth to hunt humans), the aliens believe that the planet's name is actually 'Dirt'.
  • April 14, 2011
    MorganWick
    ^^ I'm pretty sure that's Not A Subversion.
  • April 19, 2011
    ajmint
    I'm sure I recall Kang and Kodos making a comment to this effect in The Simpsons.
  • April 19, 2011
    Yendor
    How about This Is Planet Dirt? It makes it clearer that it's the planet being named after dirt.
  • April 19, 2011
    AFP
    Or just "Planet Dirt"?
  • October 29, 2011
    AFP
    Bump.
  • October 29, 2011
    TechUnadept
    The second Michael Bay Transformers movie had one deceptecon complaining that "Earth is a stupid name. They may as well call it Planet Dirt."
  • October 30, 2011
    Mozgwsloiku
    • Lampshaded in X-men cartoon by Mojo, who upon learning that he landed on Earth, instantly finds a more show-approporiate name.
    • Discussed in Only You Can Save Mankind, when it turns out the aliens have named their planet Earth (their language equivalent)
  • October 30, 2011
    Lumpenprole
    "Ground" would be better synonym for Earth.

  • October 30, 2011
    crazysamaritan
    What is the narrative purpose in referring to the planet as Dirt?
  • October 31, 2011
    AFP
    In my experience, it is typically used as a sort of Lampshade Hanging. For the Babylon 5 example, the narrator was from the planet of Centauri Prime, and reflecting on the fact that the humans just didn't seem to even try coming up with a good name for their own homeworld.
  • October 31, 2011
    Arivne
    ^^ @crazysamaritan: It's usually done as a joke.
  • October 31, 2011
    Worldmaker
    In Nick Pollatta and Phil Foglio's novel Illegal Aliens, one alien (whose species is a race of intelligent plant) snarks that humans "are so primitive they still call their planet 'Dirt'", to which another alien (a reptile), snarks back, "Doesn't the name of your planet translate as 'The Place That Holds Our Roots in Safety'?" Apparently "Dirt", or the local translation thereof, is a name all inhabited planets use at some point in their history.
  • October 31, 2011
    crazysamaritan
    ^^ so? That is not a narrative purpose. What does it say about the aliens / humans doing it? Is it supposed to be a comment on the name we use? Is there some sort of dissonance?
  • October 31, 2011
    AFP
    Well, yeah, it's a comment on the name we use, mainly just lampshading that aliens in science fiction works often have either very impressive sounding names for their homeworlds, or else they have names for them that reflect the names of their species (i.e.: Romulans come from Romulus, Bajorans come from Bajor, etc.), as opposed to what the humans did, which was to basically call the entire planet "the ground".
  • November 1, 2011
    69BookWorM69
    Might it not also comment on the fact that people thought this place was all there is, even to the level of overweening pride/narcissism?
  • November 1, 2011
    Fantomas
    Just out of interest, does this trope only work because sci-fi is primarily an English-language genre? This planet is often alternatively referred to as Terra, which in the original Latin means "ground" rather than "soil". Do other languages unrelated to Latin, such as Chinese, usually call this planet something that translates directly as "soil", or even "ground"?

    Also, referring to the Earth as "ground", as opposed to "sky", was based on the assumption that this planet comprised the only patch of ground that living, breathing humans ever would or ever could walk upon, so it didn't need to be distinguished from all those other bits of ground up in the sky that nobody knew about. In the same way, tribes with small territories who only know about one lake or mountain or whatever seldom bother to give it an individual name, therefore a great many place-names in Africa can be literally translated as "Lake Lake" or "Mount Mountain".

    Therefore it's reasonable to assume that many alien races would begin by calling their native world something that means "the ground we stand on", and stick with the accepted yerm long after they became aware that other worlds existed. Though perhaps a race who had colonized the stars a very long time ago would dump the archaic word and instead use something that meant "home" or "origin". At any rate, you would expect a race's own name for its homeworld to be the least imaginative name they have ever given to a planet. Aliens who sneer at us for calling our planet "Dirt" probably come from somewhere whose name literally means "Everything".

    Of course, this doesn't invalidate the trope; I'm just saying.
  • November 1, 2011
    Stratadrake
    I think the trope is the expectation that alien worlds get named after whatever species primarily inhabits them (because Sci Fi is almost always written from a somewhat Earth-centric viewpoint), so it's a surprise to learn that an alien planet is named (the alien's word for) "earth".
  • November 1, 2011
    elwoz
    Ooh, this has all kinds of interesting layers to it.

    • "Earth" is a slightly more highfalutin' word for "dirt", yeah. It's meant all three of: the ground, the substance the ground is made of, and the entire world (the world occupied by humans, that is, as opposed to, say, Asgard and Jotunheim) all the way back to Proto-Germanic. [footnote: "dirt" meaning the substance the ground is made of is quite recent; it comes directly from a Middle English word that meant "excrement"!] Latin "Terra" is similar; I wouldn't be surprised to learn that there was a word with roughly the same meaning in PIE, but I don't know (nor do I know about other language families). It is perfectly plausible that superior aliens would think this is a silly jumble of concepts and/or a name lacking gravitas.
    • "Earth", "Terra", and "Gaea" are also the name of a goddess: usually referred to in English as "Mother Earth." Many (but not all) non-monotheistic religions have a god (often, but not always, female) identified with the world. So if you want to put a more charitable interpretation on it, we named the planet after one of our oldest and most culturally pervasive gods. But then again, superior aliens may have Outgrown Such Silly Superstitions and still sneer at us for it.
    • The names that get used in Earth-centric SF for alien species' home planets are often names assigned by human explorers, which are frequently based on the human name for the local star, which is of course not something as lacking in gravitas as "earth". (Unless, of course, the star has a catalog number rather than a name. Then they have to think of something else.) I recall Spocks World being at pains to point out that the Vulcans are willing to accept "Vulcan" as the human name for their planet and species, but they have other names for both in their own languages. More recent SF, particularly if it's in a deconstructive frame of mind, has pointed out the Unfortunate Implications in this.
    • When SF has its human explorers being more thoughtful and less colonialist, they often adopt the aliens' own names for themselves and/or their own worlds ... which may turn out to be the alien language's equivalent of "earth" or "home" or "world". (I do not remember the name of the book, but I remember an alien species that used numbers for all their names; their world was "1".) This is itself assuming that the aliens are enough like humans that they have a similar conceptual system going on, which there's no reason to think Starfish Aliens would do. But then again, if the aliens' conceptual system is too different, it might be impossible for us to communicate with them at all.
  • November 2, 2011
    AFP
    Another facet of this trope would be that the government of a planet need not share the name of the planet itself, such as with Mass Effect and the Systems Alliance, the de facto representative government of Earth and the humans.
  • November 3, 2011
    Frank75
    And then there's the joke "Romulans come from planet Romulus, Vulcans come from planet Vulcan, so obviously humans must come from planet Humus."
  • November 5, 2011
    AgProv
    In the Red Dwarf novelisations, this is subverted by the fact all the human race has left the planet Earth for colonies: this is because of a solar-system wide vote to decide whose planet is sacrificed to become the dumping-ground for all the crap and garbage the human race is generating. After a depressing round of "Planet Earth: no points; La Terre, nul points", the last few people are evacuated from Earth seconds before the first of the garbage-disposal ships sweeps in to dump the crap. Earth therefore literally becomes Planet Dirt, or Planet Shit. (sewage from all the colonies is routinely collected and dumped here).

  • December 17, 2011
    crazysamaritan
    Bump
  • December 31, 2011
    TBeholder
    • Schlock Mercenary
      Petey: I cannot pronounce the local name for you. My arms bend the wrong way, and the clicks don't sound right above water. Translated, however, it means "Wet."
      Ambassador Breya: Not very imaginative, are they?
      Petey: They compare favorably to the natives of "Earth".
  • January 18, 2013
    elwoz
    Bump for examples. I will rototill the description Real Soon Now.

    • One species of aliens in Constellation Games calls their homeworld "Down," as in the direction. They're arboreal, so it makes sense in context.
  • January 19, 2013
    AgProv
    Incidentally, Harry Harrison's Stainless Steel Rat books predate Babylon-5 by quite a long way. To be pedantic, should they not be the trope namer as Harrison appears to have been chronologically first with the Earth=Planet Dirt example?
  • January 25, 2013
    AFP
    Really, the earliest popular example we can find would be the best one. I've never read the Stainless Steel Rat myself out in the wild, but it's all over the Wiki.
  • January 25, 2013
    Arivne
    ^ ^^ The first mention of the "Earth = Dirt" in The Stainless Steel Rat series was in The Stainless Steel Rat Saves The World (1972). Someone is attacking the Special Corp by altering the past using time travel.

    Professor Coypu: We have been running a time probe backward. Following the traces of these disturbances. We have found the particular planet. Now we must zero in on the time. If you arrive too late, they may have already finished their job. Too early and you might die of old age before the fiends are even born.
    Jim diGriz: Sounds charming. What is the planet?
    Professor Coypu: Strange name. Or rather names. It is called Dirt or Earth or something like that. Supposed to be the legendary home of all mankind.
    Jim diGriz: Another one? I never heard of it.

    Fun fact: there's a continuity error in the above. In the first novel The Stainless Steel Rat (1961), which takes place before the events in Saves The World, Slippery Jim narrates the following:

    "I went back to the luxury yacht and tapped the stores for a large glass of Scotch whisky (that had never been within twenty light-years of Earth) and a long cigar."

    So in the first novel he knew what Earth was, and in Saves The World he didn't.
  • January 25, 2013
    KZN02
    BIONICLE: After the Shattering, Spherus Magna broke into the planets Bara Magna, Aqua Magna, and Bota Magna.
  • December 15, 2014
    crazysamaritan
    Earliest popular example would be Trope Codifier, not Trope Namer.
  • December 15, 2014
    DAN004
    Now I can see where the ridiculousness comes from: ppl equate "earth" with "ground or dirt" even if it's a PLANET's name.

    Now "a planet named after dirt in their language" is good and tropable, but I'm thinking of weird planets; looking at Hoth from Star Wars, we have an ice planet. I'm not talking about Hoth itself, but if we have an ice planet and it is named after "ice" in an alien language, does that still count here?
  • December 15, 2014
    zarpaulus
    • In the first novel of CJ Cherryh's Foreigner series it's noted that the atevi call their homeworld "earth" and the humans that land there hypothesize that all sapient species call their homeworld some variation of that.
  • December 17, 2014
    DragonQuestZ
    Thought the trope was about a planet covered with dirt. Others might think the same.
  • December 17, 2014
    DAN004
    Maybe call it Naming Planet After Soil?
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