There’s a magic to twilight -- that time between day & night. I hope you’ll see a little magic in twilight’s roots.
The word twilight appeared in English in the 1300s, a combination of the prefix twi- & the word light. Twi- meant two times (we see its cousin in the word twice). It would be reasonable to assume that, because twilight can refer not only to the time between day & night, but also the time between night & day, that twilight translates to twice-light, but research suggests that twilight originally meant something closer to half-light. Twilight’s Sanskrit relative is defined to mean a junction or holding together -- as though this half-light time somehow cements together moments that might otherwise fly apart. This might explain the old belief that twilight offers an opening between this world & the next.
In the 1500s, the word crepusculine appeared, later to become our modern word, crepuscular. No one is certain which of crepuscular’s meanings came first: dusk, or obscure. Interestingly, the word’s Italian root is of uncertain origin — how perfect — a word meaning obscure has an obscure origin.
An Old English word meaning the absence of light gave us the word dusk sometime around the year 1200. Originally, dusk was more of a color word than a-time-of-day word, but by the 1600s it began to refer that time we call twilight.
About that same time dusk was born, the noun dawn was born, meaning first appearance of daylight in the morning. This noun came from the much older verb dauen (to become day), which, oddly, seems to have come from an even older noun, dauing (the period between darkness & sunrise).
And the now-poetic term the gloaming, meaning twilight, was at one point just your basic Old English word referring to a time of day. Its root is the word glow & its ending appears to have been modeled after the word evening.
May your twilights glow sweetly.
Anything to say about all this? Let me know in the comments section.
My thanks go out to this week’s sources: Merriam Webster, Kimberly Olson Fakih’s Off the Clock, Collins Dictionary, Wordnik, Ramya, & Etymonline.
I write for teens & tweens, bake bread, play music, and ponder the wonder of words in a foggy little town on California's central coast.
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