Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
As with "terrestrial", everything on Earth is arguably Terran, that is it is just as legitimate to say "of terran origin" as "of terrestrial origin".
Some, such as Hugo De Garis, make the distinction that those who want to leave Earth or destroy it may be of terrestrial origin but are not in fact Terran. He defines a Terran in political opposition to a Cosmist—the latter being those who wish to build artificial intelligence beyond human capabilities and leave Earth.
That distinction seems to be derived from earlier usage of terran by many science fiction authors as a synonym for earthling or human or terrestrial—most notably in the context of alien encounters with humans. It is particularly useful in contexts—such as most popular science fiction television shows—where there are humans or near-humans from other planets, necessitating a term for inhabitants of Earth that is more specific than human. This usage is probably related to the term Martians for natives of Mars.
Sometimes Terran and earthling are used for joke impact, when aliens cannot tell humans from other highly active-and-possibly cognitive terran entities, for example dogs, great apes, whales, and occasionally automobiles. For example, in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, an alien ship seeking whales to talk to is causing tremendous harm to Earth, as whales are long extinct and it increases in volume to get a response; on previous visits, the aliens apparently recognized whales, and not humans, as the species worth engaging in conversation. A similar theme was expressed in Visit to a Small Planet , when aliens who visited Earth were convinced it was ruled by cars, with human parasites in them.
The term Terran has specific applications in some science fiction stories. For example:
- The Terrans are humans, some with psionic abilities, in the computer game Starcraft, as opposed to the Zerg and Protoss.
- The Terran Confederation is the human government in the Wing Commander series.
- The Terran Federation is a human government in Robert Heinlein's Starship Troopers.
- The Terran Empire is the human government in the Mirror Universe discovered by James T. Kirk in the Star Trek episode Mirror, Mirror.
- Terran is also a term used almost exclusively in the computer game series Freespace to mean a human.
In modern science fiction, Terran is more common than earthling, since the latter term carries a diminutive (and somewhat derogatory) connotation. Occasionally a completely different term will be introduced: for example, in the Stargate universe, humans from Earth are the Tauri (a term which does contain some of the same sounds as Terran).
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