Astronaut vs Cosmonaut
February 22, 2004 10:14 AM   Subscribe

Etymology question: astronaut vs. cosmonaut. Why are there two separate terms for the same thing? Is the distinction just a Cold War relic? It always seemed a little redundant to me. What about "taikonaut"?
posted by mkn to Writing & Language (4 answers total)
There's a useful wikipedia page on the subject.
posted by Zonker at 11:17 AM on February 22, 2004

I had never heard the term "taikonaut," so I'm glad you brought it up. I've never understood why we use "cosmonaut" in English instead of translating the Russian word as "astronaut," and now that "taikonaut" is added the whole thing is getting ridiculous. Are we going to have separate words for every country?
posted by languagehat at 4:04 PM on February 22, 2004

mkn: Yes, very much a Cold War relic. Space competition was a critical part of the pride in science and technology felt by either side and terminology followed suit. Apollo-Soyuz showed that both countries retained strong not-invented-here prejudices, and it hasn't been until years of cooperation in the space station that many of those have been overcome -- but both space agencies remain protective of their turf, tensions arguably escalated by the US dependence on the allegedly inferior Russian program, and the Russian program's dependence on various complex financing methodologies that boil down to us paying them to ferry people and goods to orbit.

Given that astronaut is the term used by Canada, Europe collectively, and in most non-English languages (e.g. astronauta, astronauten), I think the eventual winner is clear. Even China translates yuhangyuan into astronaut in English documents. Cosmonaut survives, due to institutional legacy, but taikonaut is headlinese.
posted by dhartung at 9:20 PM on February 22, 2004

Response by poster: Thanks! Kind of what I figured, but thanks for the added information.
posted by mkn at 7:28 AM on February 23, 2004

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