Congrats to the ESA’s Rosetta mission on the Philae probe’s successful comet landing! The strangest thing I’d heard about in quite a while, but certainly one of the most far-out.
Can you really land on a comet, though, linguistically speaking? (Not that the actual landing-on-a-comet part is a comparative piece of cake.) No one blinks an eye at it in English, probably because one of to land’s definitions in English is: to set (a vehicle) down on land or another surface. You can land on water, the moon, Mars, and, as of today, a comet.
It’s different in Spanish, though, and today’s feat has already set off linguistic alarms all over the land as well as all other habitable surfaces. In Spanish, to land is aterrizar. The RAE definition is thus: Dicho de un avión o de un artefacto volador cualquiera: Posarse tras una maniobra de descenso, sobre tierra firme o sobre cualquier pista o superficie que sirva a tal fin.
Just as in English, you can aterrizar on firm land or any runway or surface where a plane or flying object can land. However, there also exists a plethora of verbs in Spanish for landing on other surfaces. For example, alunizar for a moon landing (alunizaje), and acuatizar, amerizar, amarizar, and amarar for water landings (acuatizaje, amerizaje, amarizaje, and amaraje). The FUNDÉU recommends using amerizaje, amarizaje, and amaraje for landings in the ocean (el mar), and acuatizaje for landings in lakes and rivers. Amarizar seems to be the best-known verb for this, at least in Latin America; one person admitted that, if put to him, his best guess for amerizar would be to land in America. Another said that amarar just sounded like a lazy amarrar.
His head spinning when I asked him about all these verbs, one friend facetiously said that to land on a lake must be alaguizar and to land on a lagoon alagunizar. But, what if you land on a rivulet? A highway? A cracker? We’re going down a dangerous path, here.
Aterrizar is always your safest bet, then, even if you’re not strictly landing on, well, land. After all, we can marearnos (get dizzy/seasick) on land, so why can’t we land on the sea? Still, words like alunizaje and acuatizaje are firmly entrenched in Spanish, and a word like aterrizaje just feels like it won’t do for today’s historic comet landing. Surely it’s time to herald in a new word for this exploit. Something grand, something epic. As this structure already has a precedent, though, there’s not much room for creativity here. Obviously to land on a comet must needs be acometizar, and a comet landing couldn’t be anything other than acometizaje. These words have already been gaining a lot of traction around the web in the past few days.
RAE lexicographers must get so excited when humans do something never done before and, thus, create the need for a new word. I believe the word alunizar was created long before man did land on the moon in 1969, so word makers might as well go ahead and coin words such as ajupiterizar, aplutonizar, and asolizar to prepare for man’s future achievements. It’s only a matter of time. English just doesn’t really lend itself to fluidly creating verbs like these, so Spanish should revel in this ability and stick it in our eye.
Be sure to “acomentizar” as well, taking a minute to land in the comments!