Technically speaking, landing is coming to rest after making contact with the ground.

Yes, but isn't it supposed to be smooth rather than violent?

Ships land, as do planes, drones, and skydivers.

Meteorites crash, fall ... uh ... collide with ... but land?

Mazurek said the meteorite came with a barn he bought in 1988 in Edmore. He said the farmer who sold him the property told him it landed in his backyard in the 1930s.

Did he mean that ironically? "Meteorite landed": a quick google search returns 30,000 results.

I mean, come on. John Harrington comes to mind:

Treason doth never prosper, what’s the reason?
For if it prosper, none dare call it Treason.

Any thoughts?

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – MetaEd Oct 11 '18 at 17:06

The verb land is a verbification of the noun land. So there is not really any "smoothness" inherent to the word. Sure, a meteorite crashes, collides, impacts, destroys, ploughs into, wrecks land, but in every case, the space rock makes contact with the land. It "lands."

On a side note, a plane can land violently, but a meteorite simply 'lands,' unless you personify its action with, say, the wraths of the gods. :)

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    Oh, so now you're nounifying "verbify"? ;) – Nonny Moose Oct 11 '18 at 0:29
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    @NonnyMoose If a noun is verbifirous, then it may be verbified. – Nigel J Oct 11 '18 at 1:20
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    Verbimus blurbimus! :) – Carly Oct 11 '18 at 5:55
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    @NonnyMoose Yes, they verbificationized it or, if you prefer, they performed an act of verbificationization. Note that this action is never referred to as verbificationizationing, since that would be ridiculous. – David Richerby Oct 11 '18 at 8:39
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    It's not the verbing that weirds the language; it's the renounification. – Monica Cellio Oct 11 '18 at 22:14

A Google Books search shows “hit” as a more common verb used in relation to meteorites reaching the Earth.

Land is also used, probably on the following connotation:

to hit or strike the ground, as from a height:

  • The ball landed at the far side of the court.


From Perspectives on Astronomy :

Meteorites hit Earth every day, and occasionally a large one can form a crater.

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I have been told by pilots on more than one occasion that

  • Landing [an aircraft] is a controlled crash
  • Any landing you walk away from is a good one

So all landings are crashes, with varying levels of violence, and your distinction is arbitrary and in particular not shared by the people to whom it applies.

If you want to argue that this is not the idiom then I point out that you opened the debate with a demonstration that sometimes it is the idiom.

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    "Any landing you walk away from is a good one" - a great landing is one where you can use the airplane again! – Andrew Grimm Oct 11 '18 at 10:04
  • "Take off is optional. Landing is mandatory." – T.J.L. Oct 11 '18 at 22:32

The expression "Landing a blow" comes to mind.

It seems to indicate that landing is not necessarily a gentle one.

(As for "hit" - it does indeed seem better for a meteorite. But it has a slightly different meaning. The quote you supplied wanted to make the point that the meteorite was there.)

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    Good answer. .... – Ricky Oct 10 '18 at 18:43
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    @Ricky Thanks. .... – ispiro Oct 10 '18 at 19:58

The phrase make landfall means

to reach land after a journey by sea or air

and this describes exactly how a meteoroid arrives to become a meteorite. Indeed it describes the arrival of a space rock far better than the arrival of a ship, which does not fall to land, or a plane, which must not fall to land.

The meteorite made landfall

Otherwise it could be a falling star or a shooting star if its attempt to immigrate with a new name fails.

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    I thought it was pretty humorous. – Ricky Oct 10 '18 at 19:07
  • Plus one, of course. – Ricky Oct 10 '18 at 19:08
  • Thank you although its prime intention was to provide a relevant word. – Weather Vane Oct 10 '18 at 19:08
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    So what. Verdi composed "Rigoletto" to please his mistress. – Ricky Oct 10 '18 at 19:09

Land = arrive suddenly.

One fine morning in the 30s, out of nowhere, before you could say "meteorite," there it was!

2.4 informal (of something undesirable or unexpected) arrive suddenly.

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  • My impression is that sense 2.4 is a metaphor derived from the tendency of various objects--such as meteorites--to land in sense 2.3, and to do so suddenly and unexpectedly. In short, I would have picked sense 2.3. – David K Oct 11 '18 at 22:19
  • They certainly arrive suddenly. Anything big enough to reach the ground with a solid core will be travelling at terminal velocity which for an iron spear dropped from 30,000m is about Mach 3. Since meteors enter the atmosphere much higher and with significant velocity they often hit the ground at more than Mach 10. This is not something you will see coming. – Peter Wone Oct 12 '18 at 0:38

The verb land comes with certain connotations that make it the preferred description in this case.

to land often refers to a body a) ending its travels b) touching down in the predictable or expected way

A is basic, boats land, planes land, thrown balls land. They come to a stop and they are done with their previous movement. B is about something reaching rest as expected or intended. A plane landing implies that all is well. A sky diver landing implies a certain level of safety. Tricks on skateboard/snowboards are only considered to land if they hit the ground in the desired manner even though they will one way or another hit the ground.

Hope that isn't too long winded, but I thought the question was more about word choice and context then about definitions. English is full of words that mean the same thing but we pick the words that best imply what we mean.

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Crash and Land are both acceptable in this situation, Crash has overtones of violence and lack of control however.

Since a Metorite is unpiloted, they can be used pretty much interchangeably.

However, if a craft is airborne and piloted, Crash vs Land have very different connotations.

Remember that historically flight is only very recent, language takes a while to change, so there is no surprise that the terms are used interchangeably.

Crash implies loud noises, possible destruction, violence, impact without intent, or unexpected impact.

Land implies an impact, possibly gently, possibly with intent, and likely comes from ships coming ashore, to earth or literal (noun) land, it's ships 'landing' that would have led to aircraft 'landing' being used to describe aircraft returning to earth gently. "Landing a punch" means that a punch correctly hit where you were aiming it.

If I were being descriptive:

"The meteorite landed in the backyard harmlessly."

"The meteorite crashed into my backyard destroying the shed."

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  • A rock hitting your backyard at over 300 km/h (>200 mph) is unlikely to do so harmlessly. At the very best it's going to leave a sharp hole in your nice soft lawn. – Chappo Hasn't Forgotten Monica Oct 11 '18 at 1:55
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    In the scope of possible outcomes, leaving a crater in my lawn is relatively harmlessly – Ryan The Leach Oct 11 '18 at 2:18
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    Might even be useful for golf-putting practice ;-) – Chappo Hasn't Forgotten Monica Oct 11 '18 at 2:22

Small meteorites can 'land' because they reach terminal velocity in the lower atmosphere, so they're actual going as fast as a brick dropped from a plane. There's no strict rule about using 'land' as compared with 'crash' or 'impact'. If the meteorite hits the roof of a building and makes a hole then it will have 'crashed into a building', if it falls onto your lawn it will have 'landed' on your lawn.

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