definition: a small flash of light, especially a reflected one
According to Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary, glint is in the bottom 30% of words in terms of popularity, even lower than gleam, which is in the bottom 50%. That surprised me, because while I have commonly seen glint, as in “his eyes glinted in mischief”, I haven’t quite seen gleam being used in my creative writing classes. What do you know, we learn new things everyday.
definition: stay in a place longer than necessary because of a reluctance to leave
Unsurprisingly the root form of this word is similar to that of longing. I’ve come to realise that I really like the in-between words. The words of transition. Just like how I tend to like the in-between colours. I think there’s something about the in-beweens that I romanticise, like the delicate balance between the could-have-beens and the infinite possibilities in the future. The two things that I always think of when I think of transition words are: liminal spaces and story books (surprise, surprise).
Liminal spaces, simply put, are places of transition. (thank you, tumblr) Places like carparks, like stairwells and airports. They do not exist for their own sake but for their existence with the things that come before them and after them. What fascinates me is the fact that this concept of liminal space was first coined to describe that space in rituals where people are transiting from one stage of another. The fact that rituals came out of this instinctive need to protect our transitions, the fact that we even register these immaterial transitions as vulnerable, psychs me out.
I’m currently reading “The Lustre of Lost Things” and I love it. There are so many things to love about this book. Its gentle message on kindness and changing the lives of other people; its simple lyrical prose that I find myself constantly highlighting; the serendipity of finding it on a bookstore shelf. Check it out if you need a gentle weekend break! I’m taking mine now and reminding myself that life is not as harsh as we assume it needs to be. xx
definition: a yearning desire
I’m in a pretty melancholic mood tonight and wanted to try my hand at flash fiction. Out of the 13 Lucky Tips for Flash Fiction, I really liked the emotion one: Pick a key emotion to colour the story. I settled on longing. Then I realised that longing is a vague word, almost a metaphor in itself.
Longing’s origins are from Old English, Dutch and German – langian, langen and langen – which mean prolong, present/offer and reach/extend respectively. Notice that none of these meanings relate to yearning explicitly. Of course, Old English includes the meaning of ‘dwell in thought’, which is probably where the meaning of longing came from, but what interests me is how longing could have evolved from ‘long’ literally meaning “a large amount of time” into ‘longing’ as a metaphor.
Like many metaphors, longing seems to have first stemmed from concrete vocabulary. Maybe as a signifier, the the word long initially meant concretely: “a large amount of time”, but it soon evolved to encapsulate the emotion that oftentimes co-exist with being such a long distance away from a loved one – the yearning that comes with the distance. It soon evolved into what we call concrete-abstract vocabulary – deceptively simple words but with a world of meaning and value wrapped up in them.
At least, that’s my preferred theory of how longing became a one-word metaphor, one that, I’m glad, seems to be increasing in usability. Now… back to the flash fiction prompt..
definition: the darker stage of twilight
Well isn’t that the strangest definition you’ve ever heard? I’ve always thought of dusk as the poetic cousin to sunset, but apparently that’s not the case. Research led me to Mr Reid’s really helpful blogpost, in which dawn, dusk, sunrise and sunset are systematically decoded in a wonderfully concise explanation. Basically, if this helps you: sunset > twilight > dusk > night OR night > dawn > twilight > sunrise. Apparently, dawn, dusk, twilight, sunrise and sunset are governed by their angles from the horizon. If that isn’t the way to kill off the romanticism of the words, I don’t know what else is. Still, I have a bit of an interest in physics, so this one really interests me.
Apparently, dusk can be further divided into civil dusk, nautical dusk and astronomical dusk when the top of the sun is 6, 12 and 18 degrees below the horizon respectively. As far as I can decipher, twilight refers to the period of time in which there is still light scattering in the sky after the top of the sun has passed below the horizon. In contrast, dusk is a point in time, most often the point of astronomical dusk, in which the top of the sun is 18 degrees below the horizon. It is also the darkest point of the sky just before night, and is thus accurately defined as the darkest point of twilight.
Who would’ve known such specific delineations existed? Not me, for sure!
definition: a period of time in the past that was idyllically happy and peaceful
I first came across this word as part of the url of this author I admired (crazily), whose live-journal is now sadly defunct. You will probably not believe how much time I spent grieving over her decision to not only leave the live-journal community but basically delete her entire online writing presence without a trace. It was scarring, to say the least.
Still, my love for the word ‘halcyon’ has endured. Did you know, halcyon’s origin lies in greek? Alcyone was the counterpart to Ceyx, and they were very happily married. So happy were they that their tongues were loose and they often called themselves “Hera” and “Zeus” just for fun – I mean, what’s a little name-calling between married lovebirds, right..? Wrong. Zeus apparently found it sacrilegious and threw a thunderbolt at Ceyx’s ship, drowning him. Alcyone drowned herself in grief, but the gods made them kingfishers – halcyon birds, named after Alcyone herself.
The legend continues that Alcyone would lay her eggs (as a halcyon bird) on the beach and her father, Aeolus, god of winds, would restrain the winds so that she could lay her eggs safely. Needless to say, halcyon days then refer to a period of particular peace, especially in the midst of difficult times. Nostalgia is imbued into this meaning as well.
Personally, even without this research, the word halcyon itself invokes a sense of longing in me. Perhaps it was due to the strange usage of h, cy, and l and the fact that these three comparatively rare elements were combined and used in one beautiful word. I suppose the fact that it’s so infrequently used also adds to its appeal for me. As you can probably already tell, I’m pretty much infatuated with “halcyon” as a word. 😁
definition: the speech habits peculiar to a particular person
I first heard of this word in the introductory course to linguistics in uni and have been pretty much obsessed with it since them. I thought it would be a great word to start with, in building this collection of words.
Idiolect fascinates me, because it concerns the individual. Language concerns the population, the culture, but when you talk about idiolect, you’re talking about how the person, as an individual, chooses to use this word – chooses to use this collection of words. That’s the most fascinating thing to me – that of all 7.5 billion people (this is a cool world population clock you should check out), you have your own idiolect, I have my own idiolect, and no two are the same.
It’s a shame that idiolect is used so rarely, seeming to have peaked in the 1980s. I would have expected it to have increasing usage, seeing that the corpus available to us just keeps on increasing. Especially with the rise of tumblr-poetry (here’s a wonderful poet to start with), the way words are being used have changed so much.
I guess the rate that word-use is changing was really one of the main motives for me to start this blog. If time was rewound to a decade back, I probably would not start a blog like this, simply for the fact that words and their meanings were stable for me. I could read a word on a page or speak a word and have their meanings easily match, no matter who I was speaking to or what I was talking about. Not anymore, I feel like words are slip-sliding out of our grip, and the deconstruction Jacques Derrida talked about is picking up – not gradually but exponentially, and it’s scary as well as fascinating. Until the words fall apart, I’ll keep trying my best to keep them either here, in this space (no idea how long I’ll keep this up) or as always, on scraps of paper – which is somewhat ironic, for they will only be lost again.