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I don’t know how I was first introduced to the term xenoanthropology. I know I was a child. I know I thought I’d created it myself, though looking back as an adult, I know that’s unlikely. I also know that it stuck with me, because it so deftly captured how I felt about the world around me and my place in it.

Xenoanthropology comes from three Greek roots: -logy, the science or study of; anthropo-, human; and xeno-, foreign.

Together it could mean any of several related things. Strictly speaking, xeno- just means foreign; xenophobia is typically about people from another country. But in xenoanthropology, like xenoarchaeology or xenology in general, it usually means extraterrestrial or at least non-human.

A lot of science fiction (e.g. Star Trek or Halo) and some academia (e.g. Rutgers) stretch anthropo to mean people, not necessarily human, making xenoanthropology the study of foreign (extraterrestrial) people.

For me, xenoanthropology was the study of humans and their culture(s) from the perspective of an outsider.

It stuck with me because that’s what I felt like I was, an outsider living amongst humans, studying their culture, trying to understand and fit in. I felt better about it when it had a name. I felt less alone.

Maybe I wasn’t so alone. Extraterrestrials studying human culture is the premise of 3rd Rock from the Sun, Mork and Mindy, and My Favorite Martian.1

I feel less alone these days. I still don’t fit in. I still wonder a what it is about me or humanity in general that makes me feel like an outsider among us. But I’m a far more knowledgable xenoanthopologist. I navigate human culture far better. Most importantly, I don’t think there is anything wrong with being different.

  1. And to a lessor extent, the Coneheads.