Back to Earth

On the radio this morning, someone was talking about an uncrewed mission that has just collected samples from the asteroid Bennu. The spacecraft bringing the sample came back to Earth in September in the Utah desert. Nasa is distributing fragments to researchers across the world, including the UK.

The interviewer started to say ‘bring the sample back to earth’. But then she corrected herself, deleting back to say instead just ‘bring the sample to earth’.

She obviously thought including back would be wrong because the sample had never been on earth before. But I think what she started saying first time was OK. ‘bring the sample back to Earth’ can simply mean ‘go to the asteroid and come back, bringing the sample back with it’.

Similarly, I can say I will ‘bring something back from the shops’, even though the thing I bring has never been in my house before.


  1. When I write, I tend to favour “less is more”. Writing that’s proudly prosaic, even if less elegant — that’s me. Others, of course, feel differently.

    In the two examples you cite, I don’t think “back” adds anything – and therefore can be omitted. “Back” unnecessarily adds an implication of a round trip, not to mention an extra word that doesn’t elaborate on the intended meaning:
    — bring the sample [back] to earth
    — bring something [back] from the shops

    1. I agree that less is more.

      Here, although ‘back’ doesn’t add any new element of meaning, it does take the idea of the round trip and put it in the foregound. Deciding which information to leave in the background—and which information to put in the foreground—is an important part of communication.

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