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Martian as an adjective meaning "of, pertaining to, or characteristic of the planet Mars" (originally in reference to astrological influence) is from the 14th century according to Etymonline;

curiously, according to the same source, the noun meaning "an inhabitant of the planet Mars" has a much later origin, that is attested by 1877.

Though the usage of Martians to refer to an indigenous population of the planet Mars is quite logical, I wonder where its usage actually originated from. Probably by a 19th century author of a science fiction book, but I couldn’t find any evidence to support this view.

Where does Martian meaning inhabitant of Mars come from? Who first used it?

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    Well, an inhabitant would be 'of or pertaining to', wouldn't they? It's just an extension of the original, astrological meaning. – Kate Bunting Feb 7 at 17:23
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    @KateBunting - yes, that’s what I say in my question. But I am asking about its usage to refer to inhabitant of Mars. Someone in late 19th century called them that way. Before that, apparently, nobody thought about aliens from Mars and called them Martians. – Gio Feb 7 at 17:27
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    So the first person to think of them used the existing word meaning 'of or pertaining to Mars' - which is what I said in my comment. – Kate Bunting Feb 7 at 17:32
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    Martianus is simply a regular Latin adjective that could be used to refer to an inhabitant of Mars, if anyone needed to refer to one. It was available as an English word like most Latin words, and it got used as needed. Nothing to see here, I'm afraid. – John Lawler Feb 7 at 19:47
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    Great question! Don't let the grumpy people spoil your fun on this site. I see you have already received a pretty good answer, which proves that it is a fine question. – Cerberus_Reinstate_Monica Feb 7 at 23:17
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The earliest match that an Elephind newspaper database search finds for Martians in the sense of "inhabitants of Mars" is from a compilation of items headed "Inhabitants of the Sun," in the [Port Elliott, South Australia] Southern Argus (November 18, 1869), reprinted from an edition of Once a Week of some earlier date:

A French idealist, evidently suffering from telegraphy on the brain, proposes to the Academy of Sciences to establish communications with the peoples of the planets, if any such there be. His notion is to mount a great mirror upon the earth, and give flashing signals to Mars and Jupiter. He thinks that if these are repeated regularly, in batches of a certain number, the Martians or the Jovians, as the cases may be, will come to discern that they mean something, and will return them, and that thus a code will be eventually agreed upon, so that we may talk across the solar system just as we do across a field. This silly man calls attention to the bright spots which have occasionally been seen on some of the planets, and suggests that these were probably signals from the habitants thereof to us. This idea of planetary signalling is an o[d]d one; it has been mooted before, and (doubtle[s]s has occurred to thousands who have not had the effrontery to give their thoughts a tongue. My object in alluding to its present revival is to give an instance of the absurdities tolerated by the Paris Academy of Sciences.—Once a Week.

I haven't done a thorough search for instances of singular Martian in the sense of "inhabitant of Mars," but Martians certainly goes back to at least 1869.


Slightly older than the previous example is this instance from "Historic Progress and American Democracy," an address delivered by John Motley to the New-York Historical Society on December 16, 1868:

In popular periodicals and lectures of to-day you may learn much of the bays, rivers, inlets, oceans, and continents of the planet Mars; and if inclined for a vacation excursion, and could you find a conveyance thither, you might easily arrange a tour in that planet, starting from Huggin's Inlet and sailing thirty thousand miles along one of its very convenient estuaries without ever losing sight of land. I know not whether the Martians have accepted the nomenclature of Dawes Continent, Table-Leg Bay, and the other designations laid down on their planet by the spirited geographer of ours; but at least they might be flattered did they know of the interest they excite on this earth.

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    I grant you that that’s indeed pretty early for the denizens of Mars. To me this seems an unremarkable use of an adjective to mean people from where that adjective describes. We speak of Martian geology because the adjective has always been Martian, all the way back until before English was English. The OED’s earliest such reference is from The Canterbury Tales: c 1395 Geoffrey Chaucer Wife of Bath’s Tale 610 I am al Venerien In feelyng, and myn herte is Marcien." So the sense meaning "of Mars" has always been there in the word. – tchrist Feb 7 at 21:59
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    "if inclined for a vacation excursion, and could you find a conveyance thither, you might easily arrange a tour in that planet, starting from Huggin's Inlet and sailing thirty thousand miles along one of its very convenient estuaries without ever losing sight of land." Indeed you would, but not in the way that author intended it. – nick012000 Feb 8 at 14:17
  • The quoted first paragraph from its first sentence to its last one is very characteristic of scientific short-sightingness... (see en.wikipedia.org/wiki/…) – Jean Marie Becker Feb 10 at 19:08
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OED - first recorded use:

Martian n. 1.a. Science Fiction. An (imagined) inhabitant of Mars.

1883 W. S. Lach-Szyrma "Aleriel; or, a voyage to other worlds" iii. iii. 109 He..brought with him another Martian, differently attired.

The Blog, "The Worlds' First Martians - and First Martian Invasion" has an earlier reference:

**The Moons of Mars (Cornhill Magazine, v. 36, October 1877, page 412). The article goes on to describe the size of the moons and how those moons might look in the Martian sky to an observer standing on Mars:

Thus the light given by the farther of his two moons varies from one two-hundredth to one three-hundredth part of our moon’s. This part, then, of the Martian moonlight is but small in amount, and certainly cannot go far to compensate the Martians (as compared with us Terrestrials) for their greater distance from the sun.

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It's nothing unique to Mars, or to planets. It's just one of the ways that English forms words for things/people that come from places. E.g. Italian, Australian, &c.

So as soon as some English-speaking person* comes up with the idea that there might be people/intelligant beings living on the planet Mars, those people would almost automatically be referred to as Martians.

*Like H.G. Wells, though I'd be surprised to find that others hadn't predated him. If all you want is the first use, then the History or perhaps Literature sites would be better places to ask.

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    So as soon as some English-speaking person comes up with the idea that there might be people/intelligant beings living on the planet Mars, those people would almost automatically be referred to as Martians.” that’s the heart of my question...when and where did that happen?..who came up with the idea and put it down in writing? – Gio Feb 8 at 11:06
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    @Gio: Then the History, Literature, or perhaps Science Fiction sites would be better places to ask. – jamesqf Feb 8 at 17:34
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"Martian" may not be a surprising choice of word, but it was not necessarily inevitable. The astronomer Richard Proctor, who famously observed and wrote about Mars, used the name "Martialist" in 1867, before the earliest known examples of "Martian" in print in 1869 (from an address given in December 1868).

I wrote a blog post of several years ago with early examples of "Martian" in print, but I was not aware of several examples I've seen since from 1869/1870, and was not aware of the 1868 address mentioned in another response here.

But even through the 1870s, "Martian" was not a clear winner. "Martialist" as a noun, "Martian" as an adjective, and "Martian being" as a noun all appeared in a series of articles in Cornhill Magazine between 1870 and 1877. "Martian" was used by prominent British and American astronomers in 1877 during a particularly close flyby of Mars when moons of Mars were first seen.

From my blogpost:

Martial or Martian

The transition from Martial as an adjective for describing things related to Mars played out in the pages of the influential British literary magazine, Cornhill Magazine, between 1871 through 1877. The 1871 article, Life in Mars, used the same terminology used by Proctor, namely martial (adjective) and martialist (noun). Volume 23, May 1871. An 1873 article, The Planet Mars: an Essay by a Whewellite (v. 28, July 1873) uses both Martian and Martial as adjectives, while referring to possible life on Mars as beings or creatures. An article from 1877, The Planet of War (v. 36, July 1877) uses Martian as an adjective exclusively, yet also refers to “Martian beings” as “Martialists.” It would be only one small step (“one giant leap” seems more appropriate for the moon) to transition from “Martian beings” to “Martians.”

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  • Very interesting answer—and excellent research. I note that an article from the London Spectator, reprinted in the [Philadelphia] Evening Telegraph as "Life in Mars" (June 17, 1870), discusses Proctor's "new work entitled 'Other Worlds Than Ours'" and uses the term "Martialists" at least five times and "a Martialist" at least once in reference to inhabitants of Mars. – Sven Yargs Feb 10 at 20:19
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The adjective formed from Mars is martial, but that already has another meaning, so those sci fi writers had to invent something else to describe inhabitants of Mars.

Same for Venus -> venereal has another meaning, so we need another word to describe inhabitants of Venus.

Mercury -> mercurial, already used

Jupiter -> jovial, already used

Saturn -> saturnine, already used

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    No, not always. We speak of Martian geology and such. “1950 Aldous Huxley Themes & Variations 256 Man's Martian aggression against himself.” Notice that means bellic, belligerent: of war, of Mars. Also: “1994 Kindred Spirit (Devon, U.K.) Autumn 46/1 I'm not really spacey about it, I'm very here and now, but it helps me to understand the Martian nature in me that wants to fight.” – tchrist Feb 7 at 22:01
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    The "-ial" ending means "like Mars". The "-ian" ending means something closer to "child of Mars". – user7868 Feb 8 at 2:26
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    @user7868 That is not what the two OED citations are illustrating there. Both use Martian to mean Mars-like. So did the Chaucer citation I provided on an another answer. – tchrist Feb 9 at 1:09
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    Martial refers to Mars the god, Martian refers to Mars the planet. Similarly Jovial refers to Jupiter the god, and Jovian refers to Jupiter the planet. Similarly Mercurian, Saturnian, etc. – Level River St Feb 9 at 23:25

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