Cytherean is an adjective meaning pertaining to Cythera, a small island now part of Greece. It is one of the Ionian islands, and is formally known as Kythira or Κύθηρα. Due to a quirk of the English language, it is also an adjective meaning pertaining to the planet Venus.
When planetary scientists began to have a need to discuss Venus in detail, an adjective was needed. Based on Latin principles, the correct adjectival form of the name would be Venerean. However, this term has an unfortunate similarity to the word venereal as in venereal diseases (related to "Venerean" as martial is to "Martian"), and is not generally used by astronomers. The term Venusian is etymologically messy (similar to saying "Earthian" or "Jupiterian"), and a "cleaner" version was desired.
It was suggested that since Venus had a Greek name, as well as a Roman one, this should be used; however, the adjectival form of Aphrodite was "aphrodisial", which again was felt to be unfortunately close to "aphrodisiac", again evoking matters not directly pertaining to astronomy.
A compromise was reached. In Greek mythology, the goddess Aphrodite was said to have been born from the sea, from which she emerged on a sea shell at the island of Cythera, and as such was sometimes known as Cytherea. The adjective Cytherean was taken from this name and remained popular in scientific literature for some time.
The term has since fallen out of common use. Venusian is the form most frequently used, with others, including Venerean appearing from time to time. The term Cytherean is now mostly found in older scientific papers, but some scientists still stick to the "tasteful" naming. In addition, the word "Cytherean" as an adjective referring to Venus is often found in science fiction of the early and mid 20th century.
- ↑ Dave Hanes, The Appearance of Venus: Its Importance. Accessed Oct. 7, 2006
- ↑ M. Heydari-Malayeri, An Etymological Dictionary of Astronomy and Astrophysics English-French-Persian. Accessed Oct. 7, 2006
- ↑ Joseph Lazio. Astronomy Frequently Asked Questions. Accessed Oct. 7, 2006
- ↑ David W. Hughes. A comparison between terrestrial, Cytherean and lunar impact cratering records". Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society Volume 334. August 2002. Page 713