Word of the Week: Terraform

Word: terraform

Pronunciation: TE-rə-form

Part of Speech: verb

Definition: transform a planet so as to resemble the earth, especially so that it can support human life

Source: Oxford Dictionaries

Earth Day was this past weekend, but I’d still like to acknowledge the date one more time with a related vocabulary word. I learned today’s Word of the Week from watching my boyfriend play Elite: Dangerous, a space exploration game scaled to scientifically accurate proportions. Every once in a while, he discovers a water world on his travels through the galaxy, and scanning it will reveal, among other data, whether the planet can be modified to become habitable. These are naturally the most valuable planets when exchanging data for in-game credits; a world that humans could “terraform” would be the ultimate treasure of space!

To “terraform” a planet would be to transform it to resemble Earth, especially with the purpose of supporting human life. This word was coined in 1942 by the science fiction author Jack Williamson, who first used the term in his short story “Collision Orbit”, published in Astounding Science Fiction magazine. The verb comprises the Latin noun terra “earth” and the suffix -form “having the shape of”.

Given its hypothetical nature, the word “terraform” is especially popular in science fiction, but it does have a place in real science as well. The potential colonization of Mars, for example, is a subject that often ties in with the concept of “terraforming“, as altering the planet’s surface and climate would make it hospitable to human beings. The idea is so fascinating and has so many possibilities, it’s really no wonder that it’s such a popular subject in sci-fi stories and scientific debates alike! If you write science fiction about the transformation and colonization of extraterrestrial worlds, “terraform” is a must-use word for your stories!

What are your thoughts on this word? Any suggestions for future “Word of the Week” featured words?

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