• equinox •
Pronunciation: e-kwê-nahks • Hear it!
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 every year on March 20 or 21, and the autumnal equinox falls on September 22 or 23. The autumnal equinox falls at exactly 9:54 PM Eastern Standard Time tonight. 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.
In Play: Farmers often use equinoxes as the start of some aspect of growing or harvesting: "Every year Pierce Deere and his friends celebrate the sap rising in the sugar maples 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 autumnal 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- "night" 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 nègre, 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.)