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English: Back-scattering crepuscular rays. The...

 

 

Origin:  Latin, crepusculum

Butterflies, insects, mosquitoes, rats;
Rabbits, hamsters, guinea pigs, cats;
Moose, squirrels, nighthawks, (not bats);
Chinchilla and the red panda!
 

We will come back to this poem riddle in just a moment. For now though, may I introduce the word of the week and the first word of the year 2013: crE-PUScular!!!!

Like good, bad and ugly, crepuscular is an adjective.  Unlike good, bad and ugly, crepuscular is a word brimming with scintillating allure and sex appeal. Somewhere between crepes (delicious) and muscular (delicious) lies crepuscular, a joyous and merry word suitable for the whole family.

Am I selling it to you?

If not, you are not alone.  Crepuscular ranked disappointingly high on the 2010 New York Times survey of words that make you squirm and retch.  Just to give you an idea of the pedigree here, it was flanked by mucilage and phlegm.  It is evident that crepuscular requires a little PR.

The dawn of crepuscular occurred in 1668 when it was defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as ‘resembling or relating to twilight’, which raises the obvious question: what is twilight? We’re all familiar with Twilight the series, but what does twilight actually mean?  Twilight describes the dim or partial light we experience between sunset and dark night, daybreak and sunrise, and in our own twilight years.

The most common use of crepuscular nowadays is zoological.  A crepuscular animal is one which is most active during twilight (as opposed to during the night).  This includes every animal in my poem above.

Despite numerous opportunities to use this word – what day passes without talking about cats, dogs, mosquitoes or rats? – crepuscular appears to be in its twilight years.   So how can the contemporary user incorporate crepuscular without adopting an excessive toffy accent, donning a tweed cap and hob nobbing around with a wooden walking stick?

My first suggestion is the exclamation ‘crepuscular dude’. This requires some commitment, but if it worked for the Ninja Turtles with cowabunga, it can work for you.

Step 1: You are at a funky contempo art exhibition.

Step 2: You exclaim crepuscular dude

Step 3: You elaborate: it feels like the beginning of something new, something unknown, we’re on the cusp of . . . This usage embodies what I humbly consider to be the spirit, if not the definition of crepuscular.

Alternatively, try the wry insult: you’re rather crepuscular now, aren’t you?  Everyone loves a thinly veiled insult, but an unveiled and incomprehensible one offers a pleasure unparalleled.  Only the initiated will understand that crepuscular refers to twilight, twilight refers to a mental dimness (circa 1400), and you are calling the unwitting one a dimwit.

Finally, for those who have a kinaesthetic learning style or a peculiar dislike of adjectives, may I present crepuscule.  This noun defines that half-dark half-light moment at the beginning or the end of the day. That moment when the seas fall calm, the trees cease their restless swaying, the birds silence their calls and the world shifts from day to night and vice versa. Why not make some time to experience it, then tell the world about it?

When I was twenty-one I spent six months living in Dawson City, in far northern Canada. There, the crepuscule seemed interminable, the sun hovering just below the horizon for hours before rising again, doggedly maintaining the three-month day.

Over the past year I have been spending quite a lot of time in Sydney, and I have noticed that the crepuscule is difficult to distinguish here. It often seems that the light cedes to darkness without that period of stillness at twilight. Perhaps it’s just all the electricity and distractions, I don’t know. But I think it’s time to take a moment and smell the crepuscule.

In peace and wordliness 🙂

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