Lately the news on this planet has been just too depressing. So let’s slip these surly* bonds and see what’s happening on Mars.
Here’s Dr. Tanya Harrison, “professional Martian” and director of Arizona State University’s NewSpace initiative, with a weather report and a question for her Twitter followers: If fog on Earth is called @KarlTheFog, what should we call fog on Mars?
My own vote goes to Wanda’s nomination, “Marsha,” which is derived from Latin “Marcius,” meaning “of Mars” and which evokes damp marshes.** But what interests me even more comes further down in the Twitter thread, where Tanya reveals the source of the photo.
This is from HRSC, not HiRISE, showing fog within part of Valles Marineris. Morning fog is really common throughout the chasmata there. The distinction is between how they form (same as on Earth).— Dr. Tanya Harrison (@tanyaofmars) January 25, 2019
“Not to be confused with chasm,” the entry begins. (Nor to be confused with chiasmus.) But the definition – “a deep, elongated, steep-sided depression” – is hard to distinguish from that of chasm (“a large and deep rent, cleft, or fissure in the surface of the earth or other cosmical body”). What it comes down to, apparently, is location: If the deep depression is here on Terra, it’s a chasm; if it’s Out There, it’s a chasma.
But hang on: Chasma entered English in the late 16th century from Latin (chasmata is the Latin plural, akin to stigmata for stigma), which got it virtually unchanged from Greek khasma, “a yawning gulf.” Throughout the 17th century English chasm was often spelled chasma, which further muddies the distinction between the two words. Fun fact: chasma is related to chaos, which in the original Greek (khaos) meant “gaping void” rather than “disorder.”
A related language note: As early as 1863, the American Civil War was called “the bloody chasm.” In an 1872 cartoon titled “Let Us Clasp Hands Over THE BLOODY CHASM,” Thomas Nast depicted newspaper publisher and presidential candidate Horace Greeley – coiner of the “Go West, young man” slogan – as a traitor to the Union because he had endorsed amnesty for all former Confederates. A 2014 book, Across the Bloody Chasm, examines “the culture of commemoration among Civil War veterans,” a culture that persists today, especially in the South.
And with that, we return not only to Earth and its discontents, but to Mars as well: the planet named for the Roman god of war.
** English marsh is related to Dutch mars, which has nothing to do with the red planet. The Dutch word translates to “water meadow.”