Hear ye, hear ye! From this point forth, and for the rest of time, it shall be permissible to spell the word “Earthling” with a capital “E” — just so long as you are judicious about it and don't overuse the term as a synonym for humans, okay?
This ruling comes to you via The Washington Post copy desk and the fine folks at the Merriam-Webster dictionary after a spelling debate that called into question the dignity of humanity itself.
The issue at stake: Why should the demonym for residents of Earth be lowercase when Martians, Kryptonians and Vulcans all get capitalized?
The question first came up Wednesday morning as I was finishing a story about astronomers' unprecedented effort to take a picture of the black hole at the center of the Milky Way (it's cool stuff, you should read about it). I wasn't sure how to correctly spell “Earthling,” so I queried The Post's handy stylebook Slack channel.
I thought this was odd, so I tweeted about it (because what else do journalists do?).
As is the case with most issues of interplanetary importance, the Internet had a variety of takes.
Science editor Laura Helmuth, fearless journalist that she is, decided to challenge the rule at the highest levels.
A moment later, Merriam-Webster responded.
For the next several hours, the newsroom (okay, maybe that was just me) held its breath in anticipation of the verdict. It finally came at 2:35 p.m., a moment that shall live in history.
The dictionary had spoken. “Earthling” could be capitalized. Peace between the planets was restored. The celebration in the newsroom involved several excited emails and enthusiastic use of the “clapping hands” emoji.
But wait! Just when the dignity of Earth's inhabitants seemed secure, copy editor Brian Cleveland broke up the festivities by noting that the official dictionary of The Post newsroom isn't Merriam-Webster. It's Webster's New World College Dictionary. And even if it lists “Earthling” as an acceptable variant, it would still be Post style to defer to the primary spelling listed.
If you know any copy editors, now is the time to give them a hug and thank them for being the true hero of the journalism world. Because Brian announced that, on peril of being the first to die when the Martians invade, he would push for an exception to the New World dictionary usage to be added to the stylebook.
Never say journalists never did anything good for humankind.