We're at about the darkest time of the year, with the shortest days and least sunlight.
So why not brighten things up with the vocabulary of light? Light words aren't only about seeing where you're going. Maybe because we need light to do so many things — and the planet would be a lifeless husk without the sun — we use the lexicon of light for many positive things, from the radiance of happiness to the glow of love and the light of reason.
So don't stay in the dark: stare directly into these light-related words.
This is an adjective best known for appearing in "The Star Spangled Banner": "Oh, say, can you see, by the dawn's early light, / What so proudly we hail'd at the twilight's last gleaming?" Vocabulary.com defines the main sense of gleaming as "bright with a steady but subdued shining." So that fits perfectly with twilight, when the sun is going down and far from its brightest. You could say the sun is beaming at its height in the afternoon, but by dusk, it's gleaming.
On the show Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Spike was a vampire who started as a bad guy, became a good guy, turned into a horrible guy, and ultimately was one of the show's most complex heroes. Before becoming a vampire, he was a dude named William who wrote horrible poetry such as "My heart expands / 'tis grown a bulge in't / inspired by / your beauty effulgent." Vocabulary.com defines effulgent as "radiating or as if radiating light." Just like Spike, many have used this word figuratively. In the 1831 book The Life of Sir Isaac Newton, David Brewster described folks "…whose minds are shut against the effulgent evidence which sustains the strongholds of our faith." A word with a similar sound and meaning is refulgent. Both light-describing terms have Latin roots.
This is one of many words from the vocabulary of literal light that started shining in other corners of the lexicon. Resplendent, first found in English in the 1400s, first referred to things that are shining sharply. But over time, people started describing resplendent things that may not have been literally bright or luminous, such as a peacock's resplendent plumage or the resplendent sounds of a choir. Whether describing light or other stuff, resplendent has on its high beams.
To illuminate is to shine a light, and something that brings such light is illuminating. When something is illuminated, it's lit up like a Christmas tree. In fact, it's probably lit up even more: this word tends to apply to bright, clear, powerful light. Like so many light words, this one has other meanings: you can illuminate someone intellectually or spiritually. An example from an 1899 historical dictionary demonstrated this meaning: "I cannot imagine a teacher more gifted to lead, encourage, and illuminate a body of young students." Someone very good at explaining something is good at illuminating and providing illumination.
This word almost defines itself: something radiant sends out rays of light. You can also use this word figuratively. Anyone who is especially happy can be called radiant. A terrific smile is often described as radiant. This word is full of light, life, and energy.
If something is translucent, at least in its original meaning, light passes through it: for example, windows are translucent. But over time, the meaning of translucent has evolved a bit, meaning that light can pass through, but not perfectly. Think of a tinted window, water, or anything that allows the passage of light but doesn't let you to see through completely. Translucent materials give a skewed, unclear view of what's on the other side.
This ancient word, derived from Latin, is synonymous with light, but especially bright light. A night sky full of star is luminous: so is a movie full of famous actors.
Most of these words are bright ones, referring to a level of light that would require sunglasses. But this word refers to material that doesn't let any light through: anything that blocks light is opaque: the opposite of transparent or translucent. Since light is associated with brilliance and clarity, this word is commonly used for ideas and language that aren't clear. If I were to say, "My dog is cute," the meaning is transparent. If I were to say, "The full moon teaches the geometry of soul," the meaning is opaque, because what in Sam Hill am I talking about?
Another Latin borrowing, pellucid is a synonym for transparent, and, like that word, it's been used in plenty of figurative ways. You can describe a clear argument as pellucid, but you can also describe an obvious point as pellucid. Sometimes this term has been applied to musical tones that are particularly pure and clear. A 1952 book by Herbert Ernest Bates includes this poetic description: "The nightingale gave a startling pellucid whistle, thin and piercing and exquisite, down in the oak spinney."
Hope you enjoy these bright words, although they're no substitute for the real thing. In the middle of this dreary winter, I could use some more actual light, thank you very much.
For more luminous lingo check out these lists:
Mark Peters is a language columnist, lexicographer, and humorist who has written for Esquire, The Funny Times, New Scientist, Psychology Today, Salon, and Slate. He contributes to OUPblog and writes the Best Joke Ever column for McSweeney's. You can read Mark's own jokes on Twitter, such as, "I play by my own rules, which is probably why no one comes to my board game parties anymore."Click here to read other articles by Mark Peters
- Rate this article: