Sunday, December 20, 2009

Stand still! The solstice is here!

December 21 marks the Winter Solstice, which is the longest night of the year. Sounds depressing, but the good news is that from here on out, the days will be getting gradually longer and longer and the nights will get shorter. So in honor of this occasion, I decided to do some digging into the meaning of the word “solstice.”

First used in approximately 1250, the word “solstice” derives from Old French, Latin, Middle English and Indo-European roots. Literally, it means "point at which the sun seems to stand still." Without reference to the movement of the sun, it can also be used to mean "a highest point or culmination."

Earlier manifestations of the word “solstice” were “solstitium” (Latin), “solsticy” (Middle English), “solsticio” (Portuguese) and “solstizio” (Italian).

The peculiar thing about the solstice is that the sun does seem to stand still.
Appearing at the lowest point in the sky, the sun stays along the horizon instead of arcing overhead at noontime. This visual phenomenon occurs for several days before, during, and after the solstice. This occurs because the tilt of the Earth’s equator is at its zenith on the solstice.

Although Americans tend to think of the Winter Solstice as the beginning of winter, that was not always the case in other parts of the world. In fact, the Summer Soltice was once known in many places as Midsummer.

So, I foolishly mark this solstice as the middle of my winter. May the snow melt and the flowers grow!

Related Links
Online Etymology Dictionary: solstice

Wiktionary: solstice

Neology: Jed Hartman’s words-and-wordplay blog

Wordnik: solstice

Webster’s Online Dictionary: solstice

Wikipedia: winter solstice solstice

Infoplease: Winter Solstice

eHow: What does the word solstice mean?

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