Thursday, October 30, 2008

Word serendipity

My friend P, who reads this blog regularly, will often send me an email as a sort of reply to one of the posts, and this morning in response to the garden photos (see previous posts) sent me a gorgeous pic of their own garden, specifically of a rose bush in full, spectacular, climate-change bloom, a species called 'Crepuscule'.

Few will be strangers to the phenomenon of encountering a rare or wholly unfamiliar word in a striking way only to be regaled by the universe, over the next week or two, with dozens more instances of it, and so tonight while sitting on the sofa with a work novel I was unsurprised by the following, where the heroine Emily is discussing her reading tastes and habits:
... unfamiliar words could spring off a page and bounce into my consciousness with all the esprit of an energetic child. So it was that I was introduced to 'crepuscular' in Hunt the Slipper and carried it around with me, a blood-borne literature virus. Years later it leapt from The Virgin Suicides and announced that Trefusis, Eugenides and I were inexplicably bound by our shared intimacy with this arcane and delicious word.

I looked up from my book, out through the open back door, to see that it was indeed that time of the evening when all the flowers in the garden have disappeared except the white ones, which were still looming up at me out of the solidifying dark. Crepuscular.

Then I got curious and went after it, thinking that dictionaries on and offline might have more to tell, and found out something I hadn't known before: that it refers not just to twilit-ness in general but also more specifically to creatures that are active at dawn and/or dusk. The kangaroo is a crepuscular beast. Who'd have thought.

8 comments:

M-H said...

The first time I heard it was in relation to animals. Cats, it was, who are apparently not nocturnal as is usually believed but crepuscular. Lovely word. It makes me think of grey velvet. My second favourite, surpassed only by gubernatorial.

TimT said...

It makes me think of ghouls, because I read it in Lovecraft. It's a favourite word of his - he being a writer of night-time terrors and all.

Oh, and once I used it to describe the slow pace of a tram - apparently my brain made the connection 'crepuscular' + 'creep'.

Jonathan Shaw said...

I think I probably met it first in French: at least it makes me think of Baudekaire

flipsockgrrl said...

For me, it's sunlight -- specifically, the rays you can sometimes see at sunrise or sunset (as in this photo). Bonus trivia: when the rays shine through a hole in a cloud, producing the same effect but at any time of day, it's called Jacob's Ladder.

Tim said...

I associate it with the beautiful tune Thelonious Monk wrote for his wife, "Crepuscle with Nellie".

Anonymous said...

A similar word in meaning is 'gloaming'. The best description I know is from Melville Davisson Post's 'A Twilight Adventure':
'There is a long twilight in these hills. The sun departs, but the day remains. A sort of weird, dim, elfin day, that dawns at sunset and envelops and possesses the world.'
Check out the full text sometime, and its killer close: 'It is a world that we do not understand, for we are creatures of the sun, and we are fearful lest we come upon things at work here, of which we have no experience, and that may be able to justify themselves against our reason.' Lucy Sussex

Anthony said...

I heard the story that Noah Webster, of Websters Dictionary fame, on his deathbed said, as his last words, something along the lines of: "The room is growing crepuscular".

As far as last words go, I thought that was the perfect way for a dictionary compiler to go out: to send everyone running for their dictionaries

Suse said...

I've always loved that word. For me it's sunset light, softly golden with grey and purple highlights.

On Friday night I drove past our old house as I do every few months, and my Crepescule was blooming like crazy, totally taking over the front verandah and looking bloody magnificent. I felt like a proud but wistful parent.