What is the scope of the word alien? If NASA sends a pregnant woman into space and she gives birth to a baby there, is the baby an alien?

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    If you live in NYC and you don't drink coffee but drink tea, if you like your toast done on one side and if we can hear it in your accent when you talk, you're probably an alien, a legal alien, an Englishman in New York. :) – splattne Feb 17 '11 at 16:51
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    @ikartik90 You should ask Sting this question. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Englishman_in_New_York ;-) – splattne Feb 17 '11 at 17:21
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    You are correct: "foreigner" is a more likely everyday usage. "Alien" used for "foreigner" is most likely to be used to indicate legal status. Note that an englishman who is a US citizen ceases to be an alien in any meaningfull way, but could be called a foreigner. – horatio Feb 17 '11 at 17:24
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    Do aliens have inalienable rights? – Dima Feb 17 '11 at 19:06
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    @splattne: great minds think alike. – RegDwigнt Feb 17 '11 at 21:15

The free dictionary ( http://www.thefreedictionary.com/alien ) says:

  1. An unnaturalized foreign resident of a country. Also called noncitizen.
  2. A person from another and very different family, people, or place.
  3. A person who is not included in a group; an outsider.
  4. A creature from outer space.

The scope is "strange, doesn't belong in the group." The term alien for an outer space creature takes from that meaning.

By the way: the answer to the hypothetical question is "yes and no." "Yes" because the baby is indeed a creature from outer space (it is arguable whether "creature" means "non-human creature"). "No" because the baby is born of presumably at least one US citizen and therefore not an alien in the context of US citizenship.

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    Actually AFAIK, if the baby is born onboard NASA spaceship then it's considered to be born in US territory (just like with ship or airplane over international waters). – vartec Feb 17 '11 at 17:16
  • probably, but either way it is still a "non-alien baby" :) – horatio Feb 17 '11 at 17:21

To answer your question on the scope of the word alien: I've always used 'alien' synonymously with 'foreigner' or to describe anything that is not native to a specified area.

Merriam-Webster defines alien as:

Belonging or relating to another person, place, or thing

  • I am a foreigner in Japan and my papers say "In case he has ceased to be an alien or died, this certificate shall be returned to Mayor within 14 days" – Nicolas Raoul Apr 4 '12 at 1:24

In this case it simply means "someone from outer space". But it also has the added flavor of "no country of origin" because technically the American baby would not be born on American soil.


Alien can be used to mean extraterrestrial (as in this case) or foreigner.

In this case it would mean extraterrestrial because the baby would born outside the Earth.


I was dating a woman who just recently arrived in the US, and took her to see the movie Aliens. She was disappointed to find that it was not, as she'd expected from consulting her dictionary, a movie about immigrants.


Alien = belonging to another country or race SYN foreign :
alien cultures

an alien multiracial society

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