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The Nature of Words
October 2015

On the last night of September, a gibbous moon only slightly less than full, lay strips of moonlight across the bedclothes. The word gibbous, in astronomical terms, refers to the moon when it's in the stage between full and first or last quarter, the illuminated portion appearing rounded on both sides, or convex. It came into usage in the early 15th century. From Late Latin, the word is little changed from its root, gibbus, meaning hunchbacked.

Another moon-related word is meniscus, which, among other things, refers to the crescent shape that the surface of liquid in a tube appears to form due to surface tension. Only a slight spelling change altered this word in its transition from the Greek menískos, crescent, diminutive of mene, moon.

Luna was the Roman goddess of the moon, hence the English word lunar referring to the moon. A lunette is a crescent-shaped container or, geologically speaking, a hill of sand formed by either wind or water flow. In architecture a lunette is a half-moon shape formed when a horizontal cornice transects a round-headed arch. Directly from the Italian cornice, an ornamental molding along a wall, in architectural terms, a cornice is a horizontally projecting feature surmounting a wall.

Crescent, the word we use to describe the fingernail-shaped visible portion of the moon near the end and the beginning of the lunar cycle, came into usage in the mid- to late 14th century, from Latin crescent , present participle of crescere, to grow. In music, to increase in volume is to crescendo.

I enjoy watching for the smallest visible crescent visible in the western sky just below the fading edge of daylight a day or so after the new moon, or its counterpart in early mornings, when the old moon appears to be fading away in the eastern sky above the first rays of dawn.


- Laurel Stoddard, CET


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