Rise and Shine: 9 Sunny Words


The same sun may shine everywhere across the earth, but the force and tinge of its rays are different for every time and every place. If you’re planning any mountainous hikes at dawn or dusk, you may be lucky enough to see an alpenglow. This word refers to the reddish glow on mountaintops just before sunrise and just after sunset. Even though the word comes from German Alpenglühen, a compound word of “Alps” and “glow,” the name for this stunning spectacle applies to all mountains, not just the Alps.


The journey to see a dayglow is far more elaborate than a hike through the mountains. While dayglow has appeared in English poetry since the 1850s referring to the glow of sunlight, it wasn’t until the 1950s that physicists adopted the term as a scientific phenomenon. Dayglow, along with nightglow and twilight glow, falls under the general category airglow, which refers to the dim light from the upper atmosphere caused by the emissions from atoms and molecules ionized by solar radiation. You can see snippets of dayglow at twilight, just as the sun is setting, but the best view is from outer space. DayGlo, a brand of fluorescent paint pigments, is entirely unrelated to the scientific term.


If the verb tan is too mainstream for your taste, apricate may be an apt replacement. Meaning “to bask in the sun,” this word entered English in the late 1600s from the Latin aprīcāri of the same meaning, which is itself from Latin aprīcus “exposed.” Sadly, it has no etymological connection to appreciate or apricot.


Ideally you’ll cease apricating before you begin to rizzar. This Scottish verb, meaning “to dry or cure in the sun,” usually refers to meat or fish, particularly haddock. As a noun, rizzar generally refers to a sun-dried, lightly-salted haddock, but such a delicacy often appears in the adjectival form: rizzared haddock. The noun and verb most likely entered English as a back-formation about half a century after the adjective. The origin of rizzared is uncertain, but it appears to have come from the obsolete French ressoré meaning “parched, sun-dried,” and came to English in the late 1700s.


A turnsole is a type of plant that turns with the movement of the sun, a sunflower being the most famous example. From Middle French tournesol, the word literally means “turns toward the sun,” and was modeled after the synonymous Greek term heliotrope. As in French, when the word came into English in the 1300s it initially referred to the purple dye that came from a turnsole plant. Soon after, turnsole broadened in meaning to refer to all types of plant that turn with the sun.


When the sun engilds something, it brightens it with golden light. Engild came to English in the 1300s from the Middle English gilden meaning “gold.” This, in turn, derives from the Old English suffix -gyldan. In the realm of photography, the golden hour is the small window of time after sunrise and before sunset in which the sun’s light casts a soft orangy glow, engilding everything it shines upon.


Apollonian may be the adjectival version of Apollo, the sun-god in Greek and Roman mythology, but apollonian is not synonymous to sunny. Meaning “serene, calm, or well-balanced; poised and disciplined,” the typical apollonian person either possesses these qualities or is classically beautiful. Friedrich Nietzsche, in his book The Birth of Tragedy, contrasted the rational, restrained qualities of the Apollonian figure with the chaotic, unbridled irrationality of the Dionysian. (Dionysus, the god of wine and ecstasy, was Apollo’s brother.)


Many of us love the sun, but when your love turns into reverence you may have slipped into heliolatry, worship of the sun. This word comes from the Greek helio “sun,” and –olatry, a Greek combining form meaning “worship,” originally based on the word idolatry. This is a word construction that produced such words as Mariolatry (the excessive worship of the Virgin Mary), the humorous nonce-word babyolatry (the adoration of babies), and the entirely serious grammatolatry (the excessive reverence for words).

Midnight Sun

People who practice heliolatry would be weary with worship by mid-summer if they lived far enough north. In arctic or Antarctic regions, or extremely northern countries such as Finland, Norway, and Russia the sun goes months without setting. The sunny nights in these areas are known as white nights, and the sun that shines during the nighttime is known as the midnight sun. As lovely as the sun may be, the longest day of the year is long enough for all of us in the lower latitudes of the northern hemisphere.

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