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Astronaut vs. Cosmonaut
Which is right, astronaut or cosmonaut ?
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2013/03/16
6:53pm
RobertB
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Russians call theirs kosmonavt , so naturally we call them by the equivalent English word. But Chinese astronauts are also sometimes called cosmonaut. Why ? Is it out of some adversarial mentality ? Does NASA have an official policy about which word to use for the different nations?

2013/03/17
3:59pm
New River, AZ, USA
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No, nothing all that complicated. Just a matter of the language used in their country of origin. Here’s some examples:

  • America & most other English-speaking countries: astronaut
  • Russia and sometimes China: cosmonaut
  • China: cosmonaut or taikonaut
  • France: spationaut
  • Indonesia: angkasawan

In each case the term is just a combination of the words for “space” and “traveler” or “voyager.” Note that only the first three countries in that list have actually launched their own manned rockets. But personnel from many other countries have participated in flights.

The only official NASA policy that bears on this is their definition that, to be in space and receive the title of astronaut, you must get to at least an altitude of 100 km (62 miles). Other countries have followed suit. That altitude was chosen because it’s the approximate dividing line between aeronautic and astronautic flight.

2013/03/17
9:56pm
Ron Draney
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Astronaut can be analyzed as “star sailor”, while cosmonaut is “void sailor”. Having pointed that out, I was going to suggest that the American term is better because it’s pure Latin, while the Russian equivalent is one of those awful Greek-Latin hybrids.

But it seems that Latin nauta and Greek ναύτης (nautes) are essentially the same, so there goes that argument.

2013/03/17
11:42pm
tromboniator
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Apparently there’s naut to discuss.

2013/03/18
3:35pm
New River, AZ, USA
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Come on, Tromboniator, now you’re just being nauty.

Ron Draney said: … the Russian equivalent is one of those awful Greek-Latin hybrids.

OK, that’s a new concept for me. What is it that makes a Greek-Latin hybrid “awful?” There are tons of hybrid words in English. Is it just that it complicates the etymology?

2013/03/25
4:18pm
larrfirr
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I might point out that in Russian the word “Kosmonavt” does not make the distinction of what country they come from.

2013/03/25
4:35pm
New River, AZ, USA
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larrfirr said: I might point out that in Russian the word “Kosmonavt” does not make the distinction of what country they come from.

Nor does “astronaut.” But for the other examples I cited, I guess the language provides that distinction. So there’s the “safety” of using Latin and Greek. See Ron Draney’s post earlier in this thread.

 

2013/03/26
3:57am
tromboniator
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Heimhenge said
What is it that makes a Greek-Latin hybrid “awful?”

People who think that mixed backgrounds is a shameful thing. Really, they exist.

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