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A Dirty Word: Should Dirt and Soil Be Used Interchangeably? A Dirty Word: Should Dirt and Soil Be Used Interchangeably?

A Dirty Word: Should Dirt and Soil Be Used Interchangeably?

by Brittany Wong

May 21, 2010
When British transplant Sami Grover found himself co-opting the Americanism "dirt" in a blog piece about the rising trend of using soil in restaurant dishes, he started to wonder if he was doing the stuff a disservice in his choice of diction.

In a recent Treehugger piece, Grover decides we should be a little more careful to distinguish common dirt with underappreciated, life-giving soil: 
...all too often, people see soil as little more than an inert substance. A substrate for growing our crops, or a nuisance that we need to keep off our kids' shoes. With more and more people divorced from the process of growing their own food, or even gardening, it's rare to find folks who understand the truly incredible thing that soil really is. This dislocation from the earth is even evident among farmers - a friend of mine met a farmer recently who told her that he hadn't touched his own soil for years. To my mind, calling it "dirt" only perpetuates that ignorance.

I once had a Permaculture teacher tell me that there are more organisms in one teaspoon of soil than there have ever been humans on this planet. That's a pretty astounding number. And if you take some time to get your hands dirty in a good, organic garden, or walk around in the woods after a rainfall, you start to get a sense of the magic that exists in our soils.
What do you say? Would those of you working on gardens say there's a difference between dirt and soil? Is quibbling over the words making a mountain out of a semantic molehill, or should we work to define soil separately in recognition of its purpose?

Image via Global Development Commons via Treehugger 
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