Alien is another word which we have inherited from the French, who in turn got it from Rome. The Oxford English Dictionary‘s etymology really goes to town on the word: “classical Latin aliēnus (adjective) of or belonging to others, unnatural, unusual, unconnected, separate, of another country, foreign, unrelated, of a different variety or species, unfamiliar, strange, unfriendly, unsympathetic, unfavourable, inappropriate, incompatible, distasteful, repugnant, (noun) person or slave belonging to another person, foreigner, stranger, outsider “. With a bundle of signification like that dragging along in the background, it’s not too surprising that “alien” might be a word that needs some rehabilitation.

Now comes, via Publishers Weekly, the liberating news that alien is being dumped from the Library of Congress cataloging system’s subject heading list. “Aliens” and “Illegal Aliens” will be replaced by “Noncitizens” and “Illegal immigration”. Does this mark another step down the road of reserving the term “aliens” for those little green men who keep visiting us in their UFOs?