The phrase earth-scratching sounds like an archaic word for "canyon", but etymologically speaking it means geography. Geography as we know it derives from French geographie, which derives from Latin geographia, which derives from its Greek cognate. This makes sense because geography is widely considered to have been invented by a Greek thinker, Eratosthenes. This man combined two existing words for his new science, that being geo- "earth or land", and graphia, "a description". Therefore, geography is "a description of the earth", which almost exactly corroborates its current definition. The prefix geo- comes from the same root as that of the famous earth goddess, Gaia, that being the Ionic word ge, which is not labeled as Indo-European, but rather comes from some obscure, older proto-language. The suffix graphia comes from the word graphein, which meant "to write", and developed because, metynomically, you write a description. Graphein itself can be traced back to Proto-Indo-European and the word gerbh, which meant "to carve" (since initial writings were really carvings). Ironically, this is also the etymon of the current word carve. This is a good time to issue a warning to beware false etymologies; there are some absurd online myths about it being named after some French mapmaker called Geograph.
Adam Aleksic is a sophomore studying linguistics and government at Harvard University. He also has disturbing interests in politics, vexillology, geography, board games, conlanging, and law.