Skip to content

The lost word?

Wikipedia photos


Once upon a time many years ago, while looking up a word in an unabridged dictionary, I came across a word on a nearby page that jumped out at me, because it was a beautiful word that described a picturesque phenomenon. I resolved to remember the word, and I promptly forgot it. I do recall the definition. It was a word (or words?) describing something very particular: a beam of light, through an aperture, falling on mist.

For years and year I tried to refind this word, and I failed. Once upon a time, research tools were incredibly primitive — things such as Thesauruses and indexes in the backs of books. Now we have the Internet.

My frustrated attempts to photograph my gothic window, using only a camera with a bad lens that refuses to let its exposure be manually adjusted, made me realize that I’d never gone looking for this word on the Internet.

It was a quick and easy search. There is a scientific name for the phenomenon, the Tyndall Effect, used to describe the scattering of light when it falls on colloidal particles in suspension. A more common description is the two-word term “crepuscular rays,” which even has a Wikipedia entry.

It is possible that, at that early age, I had never encountered the word “crepuscular” before and so was impressed by the word. It is, certainly, a beautiful word. It comes from the Latin word for twilight, crepusculum.

People generally say that cats are nocturnal. I think it is more accurate to say that cats are crepuscular. My cat sleeps at night. But she goes wild at crepusculum, both morning and evening.

What would we do without the Internet? I plan a post soon on yet another unbelievable Internet resource: Google Books.

If “crepuscular ray” is the lost word(s), then here is what I would have seen that day long ago in the Miriam-Webster unabridged dictionary:



  1. mountain madness wrote:

    I had to print this section out today to bring to my son, Nicky. He calls these rays “Spiritual Rays” by God raising up souls to heaven. Only rays of light so beautiful could be reserved for such a special time when one might be entering heaven… He said maybe those are the rays of light people claim to see just before death… This is coming from a 12 year old I might add… Very profound for a boy his age…. But he always wondered if those rays had a special name and I never knew there was one. Thanks for the info and great photos as well. Can’t wait to get my house started in Asheville, hopefully I will start the foundation before year end then I can share my photos and experiences building the same house with you…

    Tuesday, September 8, 2009 at 4:30 pm | Permalink
  2. trailshome wrote:

    I looked out into my back yard this early morning to see beautiful beams of light streaming down through the small gaps in the trees. I’ve always loved them, and now have a word for these very special lights. Crepuscular! Lovely word indeed! Thank you for sharing. I think they’re spiritual too, just one more example of God’s love for us all.

    Friday, September 11, 2009 at 8:38 am | Permalink

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *