Why is Greenland considered an island but not Eurasia?

Re: Why is Greenland considered an island but not Eurasia?, isn’t this continent/island thing rather arbitrary anyways?

I mean, Europe and Asia are separate continents, yet they are the same landmass. And some people think Australia is actually the largest island.

BTW, Cecil Adams did cover this subject once. But I can’t get the darn search function to work. I know in one article, he mentions this fact, along with a joking reference to Yul Brenner’s wazoo, if that is any help. (I am only including that last part, if anyone else wants to try a search of their own.)


Nm, misread this.

Well, I can’t find the Cecil Adams column.

But I did find this staff report, that basically says the same thing.

Finally, I got the search function to work. And not a moment too soon.

But please feel free to continue with the discussion.:slight_smile:

technically, Europe is not separate from Asia; second, why is Australia a continent and not island?

Simple answer: Because Australia is larger than an island. We had to draw the line somewhere, and Australia and Greenland happened to fall on opposite sides of it. If we had drawn the line elsewhere, we’d instead be asking “Why is Antarctica a continent but Australia only an island?”, or “why is Greenland a continent but Madagascar only an island?”, or whatever.

Although the question mentioned the word ‘seven’ a few times, the answer didn’t. Which is a pity. It’s entirely possible that “we” chose a size for continents that would give us seven of them. “We” seem to like sevens.

Also, Australia is 4 times larger than Greenland - http://www.mylifeelsewhere.com/country-size-comparison/australia/greenland

My favorite comparison map shows that Greenland is about 3 Texases. It’s the third down here: https://www.businessinsider.com/map-overlays-comparing-size-2013-12

Indeed we do, as witness the equally arbitrary Seven Seas.

But weren’t Europe, Asia, and Africa considered separate continents even before the discovery of the others? Splitting up Eurasia is the only really contentious decision in the lot.

I don’t know if they were considered continents so much as they were considered lands. If that makes sense.

If Texas were surrounded by water, it’d be an island.

Yes. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Continent#History_of_the_concept

Basically, Asia and Europe were separate to the Greeks because when the concept originated, they WERE separate, with the Aegean, Bosporus/Dardanelles and Black Sea in between them. It’s only after the term ἤπειρος became extended inward from the shores, and exploration established that the Black Sea was bounded, that the concept of Europe and Asia as different landmasses ran into some difficulties.

Greenland is connected to North America, and floats along with it … Australia isn’t connected to nobody and selfishly floats around on it’s own … indeed, this logic makes New Zealand a continent, just most of it is underwater …

Actually, New Zealand is at the boundary of the Australian plate with the Pacific plate. More than half of it is on the Australian plate. Thus, your statement isn’t really grounded in fact.

Australia has its own tectonic plate (the island of New Guinea shares that plate, which is why that island is often considered part of the Australian “continent”). As you note, Greenland doesn’t, which is one good reason to consider Greenland part of North America, rather than a separate landmass.

It’s seems that the floor of the Tasmanian Sea which separates Australia and Zealandia is composed of oceanic crust material rather than continental crust material, although this fact alone doesn’t define these as two separate continents … however both Australia and Zealandia are moving in different directions, Australia northeast towards the East Indian triple conjunction and Zealandia northwest towards Australia and consistent with the motion of the Pacific Plate …

Without an exact scientific definition of “continent”, we’re left with opinion … and all my citations are from New Zealand and we can guess what their opinion is … if New Zealanders want to call themselves a separate continent, who are we to say otherwise? …

Is Central America part of North American continent or part of South America … Panamanians will tell you the canal is what separates the two continents …

Panama was considered part of South America through most of the 19th Century, as it was part of Colombia. Continents are more social/political constructs than physical ones.

The westernmost part of Kazakhstan is technically part of Europe, even though it’s east of Turkey, Armenia, and Georgia, which are generally considered part of Asia.

Don’t strain yourself, SDSAB dude. That has to be the worst Straight Dope column ever written.

Why is Neptune a planet but Pluto isn’t? Again, the categorical line gets drawn somewhere. I presume Europe/Asia was grandfathered in because it’s an old us-and-them cultural distinction.

Take a look at the areas of all the largest land masses on Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_islands_by_area

(in millions of square km, to 2 significant digits)
Africa-Eurasia: 85 (30 Africa, 55 Eurasia (10 Europe, 45 Asia))
America: 43 (25 North, 18 South)
Antarctica: 14
Australia: 7.6
Greenland: 2.1
New Guinea: .79
Borneo: .75
Madagascar: .59

If one takes the actual land masses and ignores the human division into separate landmasses due to isthmuses, then it looks like Australia-Greenland is the best dividing line, at somewhat greater than 3.5 times. America is only just over 3 times as large as Antarctica, and is readily divisible into two separate land masses not much larger than the southern polar continent themselves. But there’s still a big difference between Greenland the next largest islands, not really all that much smaller than the multiplicative difference between Greenland and Australia. After that the islands get smaller much more slowly and there’s no good dividing lines at all other than maybe Sumatra(443k) at around twice the size of Honshu(226k). But Sumatra, Madagascar, Borneo, and New Guinea don’t exactly feel all that more major than Honshu, Great Britain, Sulawesi (Celebes), Java, Luzon (Philippines), Newfoundland, Cuba, Iceland and the two main New Zealand islands, although maybe one could make an argument they are, and should be classified as a “Major Island” or something. Other than some sparsely populated ones in northern Canada that no one cares about, that’s it for 100k km^2 land masses. After that is the second largest of the Philippines (Mindanao), Ireland, Hokkaido, Hispaniola, Sakhalin, Sri Lanka, Tasmania, Terra Del Fuego, and the largest island in the Amazon Delta (Marajo), which are all for 40k or more neglecting more ones in very cold areas no one cares about much. No real lines to draw anywhere there.

I propose the following nomenclature:

Major continents: Africa-Eurasia, America
Middling continents: Antarctica, Australia
Minor continent: Greenland
Major Island: New Guinea, Borneo, Madagascar, Sumatra

But really, artificially separating New Guinea, Borneo, and Sumatra out from Java and Sulawesi seems strange.