• equinox •
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: One of the two days in the year when the sun is directly above the equator and day and night are of approximately equal length, 12 hours each. This occurs on the traditional first day of spring (vernal equinox) and the traditional first day of fall (autumnal equinox).
Notes: There are two equinoxes: the vernal equinox springs up on March 20 or 21 and the autumnal equinox falls on September 22 or 23. The vernal equinox occurred at exactly 00:08 AM GMT today. Without the vernal equinox, we wouldn't know when Easter is. Easter is the first Sunday after the first full moon following the vernal equinox, which is why we have to check a calendar to prepare for it (unlike Christmas and the Fourth of July). Vernal means "spring, spring-like, in the spring".
In Play: Last year the vernal equinox occurred on March 20 but this year it officially arrives just barely on March 21. It was so close, in fact, North America didn't make it and celebrated the first day of spring yesterday (8:08 PM EDT March 20): "Every year Pierce Deere and his friends celebrate the sap rising at his home on the vernal equinox." Of course, weather cycles do not know about equinoxes and may or may not cooperate: "I can't believe I'm watching snow fall on the vernal equinox!"
Word History: Today's Good Word is the result of French and English tampering Medieval Latin's aequinoxium. This word is a compound noun based on aequi- "equal" + nox (noct-s) "night," which also underlies nocturnal. The Proto-Indo-European root nokt-/nekt- has remained recognizable for thousands of years in Indo-European languages, such as Russian noch, Spanish noche, English night and even French nuit. The final T seems to have been a suffix, for a series of words meaning "black" can be traced back to nek- without the [t], including Spanish and Italian negro, French negre, all descending from Latin niger "black". This word is probably the source of the name of the Niger River, the eponym of Nigeria. (The name Ann Duncan springs to mind when I think of today's Good Word since 'twas she who suggested we run it.)
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