Dirt. I love that word, though it has fallen out of favor with many gardeners and scientists. Now we say soil, which connotes fertility and abundance. Dirt is just for walking on. Before studying natural science dirt and soil were synonymous to me, then they were opposites. Now I think of dirt with affection and soil with purpose. One rarely hears someone say I have soil under my fingernails, they say dirt. Dirt in that sense seems to indicate hard work. But still, what do other people think?
I took my question to the local coffee shop. I said exactly this: I have a question-dirt and soil? Out of the five people there two were scientist/naturalist types with whom I discussed the different definitions and such. Mainly the gist of it was that dirt is bad, soil is good. Next I asked three non-science people. The two musicians said, “I love both!” and “Good!” The third person thought a bit and equated dirt to work and soil to science. Their responses seem to validate my thoughts that the differentiation is mainly by gardeners and scientists.
Part of the reason I love DIRT so much is because it encompasses everything for me; childhood memories of playing in the driveway dirt, gardening, any outdoor activity and solid ground. Whether one prefers to call it dirt or soil (of course in science I use the word appropriately), we are losing a good deal of our fertile soil to bad agricultural practices, as well as salinization due to desertification and sea level rise. So please, save the dirt!! We need living soil to grow our food; therefore, care should be taken to treat dirt like it is soil. Revitalize it with compost and do not put chemicals on your lawns or in your gardens! EEEK, dead soil.
A good book about dirt is Dirt: the Ecstatic Skin of the Earth by William Bryant Logan.