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!

4 responses to “Acometizaje

  1. Pues creo que después de mas de 10 años de misión es justo que se reconozca como oficial esta palabra en el español para esta proeza tecnológica que han alcanzado nuestros amigos europeos.
    Pensando sobre esta ultima frase, es irónico que dentro de los grandes protagonistas de la misión no hay personas de habla hispana :(
    Sin embargo yo quedo muy contento con una nueva palabra para mi repertorio.
    Me gusto mucho esta entrada, me encanta todo lo que tenga que ver con el espacio. Me gusto la perspectiva que le das. Que chevere!


    • Hola nekoneo,

      Muchas gracias por tu acomentizaje, jeje. Pero no entendí algunas cosas. Hasta hoy fue el aterrizaje sobre el cometa, entonces se reconoce la palabra (no de forma oficial todavía, pero un vistazo a las noticias en internet da para ver que va calando entre la gente del común) hasta hoy porque antes ni siquiera existía proeza tal. No se trata de ninguna demora, pues según tengo entendido yo.

      ¿Y por qué es irónico que no haya personas de habla hispana en la misión? Lamentable, sí, pero no veo la ironía. Bueno, puede que le esté buscando tres patas al gato, y la idea no es esa sino celebrar este logro.

      Pero échale un vistazo a este listado de miembros del equipo y verás que hay alrededor de 15 que tienen nombres de indudable procedencia española o hispana.

      Seguimos pendientes de cómo se dirá un aterrizaje sobre una galleta entonces ;)


  2. Great post!

    New perspective for me. I’ve always felt that English was a much more flexible language than Spanish, it didn’t hurt that I’m not aware of an English equivalent to the Spanish RAE or an entity like that that gets quoted every time someone wants to make language a matter of “right” and “wrong”. Maybe you can enlighten me on that respect. But you’re onto something here, I never noticed all those words in Spanish for finally getting your feet -or whatever- on something!

    You’re right about us going down a dangerous path, I mean, landing on a cracker seems hard enough without having to think about what word to use when you’re describing it to mission control. It also makes me thing of “Querida, encogí a los niños!” (Honey, I shrunk the kids!) I’m pretty sure there was a giant cracker involved at some point.



    • Thanks! I’ve also always felt that English is more flexible, but of course Spanish will also have some forms (that lend themselves to being templates for new needs) that English doesn’t have. Like -zaje/-aje. And, no, I’m not aware of anything like the RAE in the English world! Maybe the OED, kind of? But people don’t consider that they lay down the law or anything.


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