Thursday, December 06, 2007

The Shadow Knows


Shade and shadow are linguistic brothers, both found in Old English and with relatives in the Teutonic language groups. Both express comparative darkness -- the lack of complete illumination. Later, in a figurative application, they came to mean spirits of the underworld.

Thanks to Latin and Greek roots, there are many words in English that lurk in the shadows. Here are a few.
• adumbrate: to overshadow, shade, obscure [L. umbra, shadow]
• macroscian: having a long shadow [Gr. skia, shadow]
• penumbra: a partially shaded area [L. umbra]
• sciamachy: fighting with shadows [Gr. skia]
• sciatheric: pertaining to a sundial [Gr. skia]
• sciomancy: divination by communication with the shades of the dead. [Gr. skia]
• sciurine: belonging to the squirrel family [literally, “shadow tail”]
• skiascope: instrument that measures refraction in the eye [Gr. skia]
• umbrage: displeasure, annoyance, offence, resentment [L. umbra]
• umbrella: portable shelter or protection [L. umbra]

Interestingly, in the 17th and 18th centuries, there seems to have been a preoccupation with fabled people in distant lands based on their shadow-casting characteristics.
• Amphisians: a name given to inhabitants of the torrid zone, whose shadows at one time of the year fall northward, at another southward.
• Antiscii: those who live on the same meridian, but on the opposite side of the equator, so that their shadows at noon fall in opposite directions.
• Ascians: inhabitants of the torrid zone, who twice a year have the sun directly overhead at noon, and then cast no shadows.
• Heteroscian: a name applied to the people of the two temperate zones in reference to the fact that, in the two zones, noon-shadows always fall in opposite directions.
• Macroscian: a person whose shadow is long, specifically an inhabitant of the polar regions.
• Periscii: the inhabitants of the polar regions, so called from the fact that their shadows revolve around them as the sun moves round.
• Sciapodes: a fabulous people of Libya “with immense feet which they used as sunshades” (Liddell & Scott). Move over, Emmet Kelly.

SIDEBAR: The Shadows

SIDEBAR: The sound of the Shadows

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