"That's a great deal to make one word mean," Alice said in a thoughtful tone. "When I make a word do a lot of work like that," said Humpty Dumpty, "I always pay it extra."

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Dusk, twilight or dimpsy

That great mid-twentieth century wordsmith Ivor Brown (author of ‘A Word in Your Ear’ and other books) points out that Shakepeare would not have recognised the word dusk – a noun meaning the darkest stage of twilight in the evening. So far as he and his contemporaries were concerned the term dusk was a verb meaning to make dark.

During early to intermediate stages of twilight, there may be enough light in the sky under clear-sky conditions to read outdoors without artificial illumination. Civil dusk occurs when the earth rotates to a point at which the center of the sun is at 6° below the local horizon. This marks the end of the evening civil twilight, the point where artificial illumination is required to read outside.[1] Twilight comes after sunset, which is the point at which the earth has rotated just enough that the sun is no longer visible on the local horizon (under clear conditions).

Wikipedia informs one that there are various technical definitions of dusk -

Civil dusk
    The time at which the sun is 6 degrees below the horizon in the evening. At this time objects are distinguishable and some stars and planets are visible to the naked eye.

Nautical dusk
    Is when the sun is 12 degrees below the horizon in the evening. At this time, objects are no longer distinguishable, and the horizon is no longer visible to the naked eye.

Astronomical dusk
    The time at which the sun is 18 degrees below the horizon in the evening. At this time the sun no longer illuminates the sky, and thus no longer interferes with astronomical observations.

Shakepeare didn’t use the term twilight either though the term was dear to Milton.

The reason Brown raised the issue of this word was that he had found the word dimpsy – meaning twilight - was still in common usage in parts of England.  I wonder if it still is. 

1 comment:

  1. I wonder whether we have so many different technical definitions to the German word Dämmerung.