• subfusc •
Pronunciation: sêb-fêsk • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Adjective
Meaning: 1. Of a dark, somber or fuscous color as 'subfusc lighting'. 2. Devoid of appeal, dreary, gloomy as 'a subfusc mining town'.
Notes: The British use this word as a noun referring to dark formal academic clothing, as 'to don subfusc for convocation'. We are allowed to add the adjective suffix -ous to today's Good Word, subfuscous. Since this apparently makes the word too long, we may omit the prefix sub-, giving us fuscous—all without changing the meaning even a tittle.
In Play: I just realized that I am dressed all in subfusc clothing. Well, it goes with the subfusc day in Central Pennsylvania today. 100% chance of rain, the weather man says. I should be barely visible when I go outside: a black umbrella floating down the sidewalk.
Word History: Today's word is made up of Latin sub "below, under" + fuscus "dark, swarthy". Fuscus comes from the same PIE source as English dusk and dust, dhus- "dissipate, blow". Since initial [dh] became [f] in Latin, there is no surprise there. The semantic shift from "blow" to "dust" to "gray, dust-colored" is easy to follow. Dust only arises when the wind blows. The Swedish word dusk "drizzle, light rain" and Danish dyste "bleak" follow the same path. "Drizzle" is simply a metaphor for "dust", and dusty things appear bleak. (Rob Towart recommended today's decidedly non-subfusc Good Word back in March. Sorry for the delay.)