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Secret troves of Etymology: Taikonaut

Credit: Getty images

What is a Taikonaut?

We have all heard the words astronaut and cosmonaut and know their meaning. But what is a taikonaut? In fact, the three words are synonyms: an individual who is trained to travel in spacecraft or has flown in outer space. So, why do we need three words if they have exactly the same meaning? Well, the truth is that on an etymological level they aren't exactly the same. Let's see what are the similarities and differences between the three terms.


Astronaut vs. Cosmonaut vs. Taikonaut

Although the three words mean the same – a spaceman, each of them denotes a such but from a different geographical area. Astronaut is the American word, cosmonaut – Russian, and taikonaut – Chinese. That's why it depends under which flag or for which space program a spaceman is traveling into outer space, or in which part of the world we are referring to him.

Moreover, the three words are formed by different roots. Astronaut is composed of the Greek words astro- "star" + nautes "sailor". Literally - a star sailor/traveler. Cosmonaut derived from the Greek words kosmos "the universe, the world; order, good order, orderly arrangement" + nautes "sailor", which literally should be universe sailor/traveler. Taikonaut, on the other hand, comes from the Chinese word tàikōngrén ('spaceman') + naut = taikonaut. Syllable by syllable, Tàikōngrén may be broken down thus: tàikōngrén 太空人 highest – emptiness – man. The literal meaning should be a traveler/sailor into the outer emptiness/space.

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