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Our theme this week will be “Terms of Shade and Shadow”. A few will be ridiculously obscure, which seems apt, since “obscure” is related to our shadow-words. (It comes from an ancient root *(s)keu- "to cover, conceal", and the same root led to the Greek for “shadow”, from which in turn come some of this week’s words.)

To begin, a “shade-word” that also fits last week’s “painterly” theme (and what’s more, fits our recent “oxymoron” theme too). But since it has already been a word-of-the-day a few years ago (see here), I’ll give you an additional painterly shade-word.

chiaroscuro – the interplay of light and shade in drawing and painting; a work stressing that interplay
[Italian chiaro ‘clear, bright’ + oscuro ‘dark, obscure’. Hence, an oxymoron.]

tenebrism – a style of painting in which most of the figures are engulfed in shadow but some are dramatically illuminated by a beam of light
    In that painting, as in others, Rembrandt makes dramatic use of the chiaroscuro, the interplay of light and shadow.
    – Washington Post, Nov. 21, 1999

    Another outstanding master of chiaroscuro was Rembrandt, who used it with remarkable psychological effect in his paintings, drawings, and etchings.
    – Encyclopedia Britannica
Two examples of chiaroscuro: Rembrandt’s Denial of Peter, and Education of the Virgin by Georges de La Tour.
 
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Here are familiar two words that come from Latin sub umbra “under shadow”. You can see the connection.

sombrero – a broad-brimmed hat, of felt or straw, typically worn in Mexico and the south-western US
somber – dark; gloomy; or fig.: melancholy; dismal (also, serious; grave)
    The wooden figures of the saints, found in even the poorest Mexican houses, always interested [Father Latour]. … At [Mary’s] … left, … a saint wearing the costume of a Mexican ranchero, velvet trousers richly embroidered and wide at the ankle, velvet jacket and silk shirt, and a high-crowned, broad-brimmed Mexican sombrero. He was attached to his fat horse by a wooden pivot driven through the saddle.
    – Willa Cather, Death Comes for the Archbishop

    Federal aviation investigators this morning are at the somber scene of the small plane crash at a shopping-center parking lot.
    – Daily News Tribune (MA), August 13, 2008
Bonus word: ranchero – a ranch owner; a rancher
 
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somber – dark; gloomy; or fig.: melancholy; dismal (also, serious; grave)

Ah! You mean "sombre"!


Richard English
 
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The roots of today’s word mean “shadow combat”. The word is very rare, which seems a shame, because every sense of it names something which would be quite useful to have a word for.

I say “every sense” because the meanings you’ll find, in dictionaries and in actual usage, are … well, if not “all over the lot”, let us say “somewhat varied”. I’ll list several.

skiamachy (or sciamachy or sciomachy) –
. . .1. sham fighting; a mock contest
. . .2. futile combat; “tilting at windmills”
. . .3. futile “argument” caused by misunderstanding of terms used
. . .4. contentiousness; “argument for the sake of argument”, at least on one side

I’ll let the quotes speak for themselves: an old one, followed by the most recent I can find, from 2004.
    But pray, countryman, to avoid this sciomachy, or imaginary combat with words, let me know, sir, what you mean by the name of Tyrant.
    – Abraham Cowley, A Discourse Concerning the Government of Oliver Cromwell

    He [Lockhart] knew little, and could have cared nothing, about those who became the objects of his satire. Exquisitely cruel as it often seemed, it was with him a mere skiomachy. Certain men and women were stuck up as types of certain prejudices or delusions and he set to knocking them down with no more feeling about them, as individual human creatures, than if they had been nine-pins.
    – Andrew Lang, Life and Letters of John Gibson Lockhart

P.S. The Scanning Imaging Absorption SpectroMeter for Atmospheric Cartography (which measures trace gases in our atmosphere) was named SCIAMACHY. Someone had a strange sense of humor!

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Another obscure word, again based on the Greek skia for “shadow”.

ascian¹ – an inhabitant of the tropics (where, twice a year, the sun is directly overhead, and so one casts no shadows)
[Greek a- “not; without” + skia “shadow”]

Traveling to Benin (formerly know as Dahomey), a west-African country just north of the equator.
    The next day was a half Harmattan, which made the natives don warm wrappers … . We, un-Ascians, delighted in the cold, dry air,… throwing off the negativity of the humid plain-heat.
    – Richard F. Burton, Mission To Gelele, King Of Dahome (1864)
Bonus word:
harmattan
– a very dry, dusty winter wind, blowing from the Sahara over the west African coast


¹ Related obscure words:
amphiscian – same as ascian
[in the tropics, shadows fall north at one time of the year, south at another; amphi- = “both; on both sides”]
periscian – an inhabitant of either of the polar regions
[shadows there revolve around them as the sun moves round; peri- = “around”]
 
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4. contentiousness; “argument for the sake of argument”, at least on one side
I'd say we see a little "skiamachy" here now and then. Wink
 
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After two days of hyper-obscure words, let’s take a familiar one, again from the skia sense of “shadow”. The ancient Greeks called a certain a familiar animal skiouros, or “shadow-tail”, and the word has come down to us as squirrel. How apt! Having learned this, I get special smile whenever I see a squirrel, thinking of it as a little “shadow tail”. Perhaps you will too.

Is “squirrel” pronounced with one syllable, or two?
    A squirrel to some is a squirrel,
    To others, a squirrel's a squirl.
    Since freedom of speech is the birthright of each,
    I can only this fable unfurl:
    A virile young squirrel named Cyril,
    In an argument over a girl,
    Was lambasted from here to the Tyrol
    By a churl of a squirl named Earl.
    – Ogden Nash
One more musing. The word squirrel came into English from French, after the Norman conquest of England. Of course, the English had had their own name for this beastie. They called it an aquerne (related to acorn), and the critter is so common that the word aquerne must have been familiar to all.

Why did we loose that term? It seems odd, since Old English is the source of almost all our ordinary names for animals that were familiar in old England, such as cow, ox, horse, pig, sheep, bird, chicken, duck and goose. Insofar as I know, aquerne/squirrel is the sole exception. I wonder why.
 
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A little more on squirrels.

Aquerne was the ME for "squirrel fur", from the OE acweorna "squirrel". To me, the ME word looks like a "frenchified" version. Maybe the Norman conquerors wore squirrel fur? Perhaps they wanted a different word for the fur to that of the animal, to save their sensibilities? Animals eaten for food have words of Norman origin used to describe their meat: beef for the cow/ox, pork for the pig, and so on.

Perhaps, when the wearing of squirrel fur more or less died out, so did aquerne as a word?


Build a man a fire and he's warm for a day. Set a man on fire and he's warm for the rest of his life.
 
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There are names to distinguish darker, full shadow from adjacent partial shadow. (See note for how these can arise.¹)

umbra – complete shadow (with blockage of every part of every light source)
penumbra1. a partial shadow (blocked from some but not all light sources and their parts) between regions of complete shadow and complete illumination.
2. figurative extension:
a. an adjoining region in which something shades off into lessened intensely [the penumbra of the downtown]
b. something that partially covers, surrounds, or obscures
    … the penumbra of filthy air that so often hangs over Beijing.
    – New York Times, Aug. 1, 2008
Note: Penumbra is often used to mean simply “aura” [the penumbra of fear surrounding Saddam], which I think is erroneous.


¹ Park your car in your garage, headlights shining on the rear wall. You stand between the headlights, casting shadows right and left onto the wall, one from each headlight. If you are close enough the wall it will have a darker shadow directly in front of you, the area your body screens from both headlights.

A single light-source can give the same effect if it has significant length, like a fluorescent tube, since a shading object can be placed to block the all of the tube or part of it.
 
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Let’s look at sundials.

gnomon or gnomen – the piece in a sundial that casts the time-indicating shadow [the relevant edge of that piece is the style]
[Greek gnomon ‘indicator, carpenter’s square’. Related to to know.]
    Even if not the slightest other part of the creature be visible, this isolated fin will, at times, be seen projecting from the surface. When the sea is moderately calm, and slightly marked with spherical ripples, … this gnomon-like fin stands up and casts shadows upon the wrinkled surface, ..."
    – Herman Melville, Moby-Dick
Bonus word: skiagraphy – telling time by sundial

By the way, gnomon has another meaning: the figure [blue in this illustration] obtained by cutting a parallelogram [red in the illustration] off the corner of a similar but larger one.
 
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And once in a while a particular word will hit me with inspiration...

Then the winds rose; a man goes to batten
Down hatches against the harmattan.
I shudder and mutter,
Ask, "Where went the shutter?"
For windows in midtown Manhattan.

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A single light-source can give the same effect if it has significant length, like a fluorescent tube, since a shading object can be placed to block the all of the tube or part of it.

It can also be round and large, like the sun.


Give a man a fish and he can eat for one day; give a man a fishing pole and he will find an excuse to never work again.
Nollidj is power.
 
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I thought that that quote referred to the making of a penumbra, not an umbra.

Something is garbled in it, though. Blocking all of the tube will result in no shadow at all.
 
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It can also be round and large, like the sun.

The sun's not very big. If I hold up my hand between it and my eyes it will be blocked out. The moon's the same size, too ...


Build a man a fire and he's warm for a day. Set a man on fire and he's warm for the rest of his life.
 
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The sun's not very big. If I hold up my hand between it and my eyes it will be blocked out. The moon's the same size, too ...


Eclipse


Give a man a fish and he can eat for one day; give a man a fishing pole and he will find an excuse to never work again.
Nollidj is power.
 
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