March 28, 2014
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I became interested in twilight only accidentally, by virtue of my interest in another word altogether. A few weeks ago, I happened to come across the word crepuscle in its adjectival form (crepuscular) a couple of times in quick succession. I had heard the word before, and never really understood its meaning from context, but for some reason or another had failed to follow up and track down the definition. To the extent that I had thought about it, I had supposed it had something to do with veins or the internal workings of the human body, perhaps due to its passing resemblance to muscular. As it turns out, I was nowhere near the mark.
When I actually bothered to look up crepuscle, it turns out to be a Latin-derived term that means ‘twilight’ or ‘dusk’. My initial thought was that it was fancier, Latin-derived term that equivalent to one or more native English words. At first glance, this is unremarkable. Many concepts in Modern English are described by words from both Latin and Germanic roots which have come down to us concurrently. The interesting bit here is found only when one digs beneath the surface to examine the roots of the words in question.
Crepuscle ultimately comes from a complex of Latin terms connected to creper, which means ‘dark’ or ‘obscure’. Similarly, dusk stems from the Old English word doxian, meaning ‘to make dark’. The meaning of these terms shows a strong degree of equivalency and it is notable that, though they are used in relation to the setting of the sun, both focus solely on the aspect of darkness. These concepts don’t make reference to light.
This is interesting because twilight takes a different approach, literally meaning ‘two lights’. In other words, the concept of twilight incorporates both the dying of the light and the growing of the darkness. From this perspective, crepuscle and dusk are reductive in that they position the phenomenon purely as the decline or passing away of light, while twilight is synthetic in that it captures the balance between light and dark and draws attention to its true nature.
While dusk certainly has its uses (I think I can live without crepuscle), I find that I am drawn to the concept of twilight, the time of two lights, as by far the more beautiful and poetic term.