July 5, 2009

Slice of PIE: First Ever NAME HUMANITY Contest!

In manuscripts I’ve sent out to magazines, both paper and online, I have been upbraided for capitalizing the word Human.

I’d like to take a moment to explain myself and to ask a few questions. I capitalize Human because you’d capitalize Martian, Kzinti, Jophur or any other alien species or race (Q: Why are “race” and “species” used interchangeably in SF stories? Both have specific meanings – which some writers seem to ignore).

A possible explanation might be that SF people think that our generic species name is so ubiquitous (that means so all over) that there is no reason to capitalize it to set it apart. In other words, everyone knows that we call ourselves “human”, so we don’t need to say anything more.

Another argument is that we keep “human” lower case because aliens are always named after their homeworld and we do NOT live on Huma. Though, if you wanted to get picky about it, we should call ourselves Di qiu-ans – which is the Mandarin Chinese word for the planet Earth and more people on Earth speak Chinese than any other language. (A side issue here is the implicit assumption that alien races or species will speak a unified language. Are the over 6000 languages spoken on Earth some indication that we are primitive or not “up-to-snuff” in an interstellar sort of way? Or is it simply easier for a writer to assume that every alien species or race speaks one language? Lastly, why do Humans in SF all speak colloquial American? Very, very few writers even acknowledge that their Humans speak anything but American even when their characters are of Hispanic, Asian or African descent.)

A darker explanation presents itself. Is the lower-case-ization of Human really a conspiracy of far-left-wing-liberal-parking-lot-bulldozing-back-to-the-stone-age de-humanizers to place Humans in their rightful evolutionary place as “just part of the family tree”: tree shrew, lemur-like prosimians, monkeys, dryopithecines, chimpanzees, hominids, human? The lower-case-ization of Human neatly severs Humanity from God (oops, god) and places him (or her) in the realm of the animals. (A secondary and possibly more insidious explanation here is the one that suggests that all aliens will be superior to us, so we must capitalize THEIR names and not our own.)

Last of all, some SF writers have tried valiantly to call us all Terrans, a name derived from the Latin word for Earth, terra. Somehow, I cannot imagine everyone picking up that name, either. Especially if you were Finnish – which is part of the Uralian family of languages (like Estonian, Hungarian and several other ethnic Russian languages) rather than the Indo-European family, like Latin and English.

So, your thoughts on this thorny subject are welcome and if you’d like, you can offer up a name by which we will call ourselves once we get into interstellar space and meet the neighbors. Maybe I’ll have a contest! That’s it! Give me the name by which we should call ourselves when we are introduced to interstellar society, I’ll collect them and then we’ll vote on it! (The vote will be non-binding, of course. You can go ahead and call yourself whatever you want the next time you meet an alien.)

Hurry up with those names! In the style of Bruce Bethke, I’ll give you two weeks to enter your choice of name by which the Human race will introduce itself to the Universe at our eventual, deep Southern traditional Coming Out party.

Your due date is July 19, 2009 – I look forward to seeing your entries!


Austin said...

Hmmm. Well, if we were to encounter another race/species/whatever of beings/aliens/whatever that did not subscribe to any sort of religion... perhaps they would call us Godlings or God-lings. Since do not the majority of humans take part in religions that claim every human came from God, and was made in His image?

I'm not suggesting this is the name we choose for ourselves, since obviously the belief in God is not uniform throughout humanity (Humanity?); however, I think from an alien's point of view, it would be a name they might be apt to label us with.

Paul said...

The newest Canadian territory is called Nunavut, which in the native Inukitut language means "our land," but a close runner-up in the voting for what to call the territory was Bob. So, since the Canadians aren't using it, I say we call ourselves Bob.

If there are any Twin Peaks fans reading this, you know Bob is one of the scariest names ever. I don't know if that's an editorial comment on what I think of our species or not.