Printable Version
Pronunciation: hee-lee-ah-lê-tri Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun, mass (no plural)

Meaning: Sun worship.

Notes: HeliolatryToday's word is moving from its literal sense, referring to people who consider the sun a god, to the metaphoric sense of "sun-worship", lying out in the sun for a suntan. As the summer sun beckons us more and more in the northern hemisphere, we thought this word very apropos. It has a large family: a heliolater is a sun worshiper, someone who is heliolatrous. More distantly related are heliophilous "sun-loving", heliophobic "sun-fearing" and, of course, heliophagous "sun-eating", should you ever need them.

In Play: The ancient Egyptians were among the best-known adherents of heliolatry in the literal sense of the word. But we may fly above the literal sense of this word to the much more interesting figurative one: Today's heliolatry involves self-immolation, scorching ourselves to the point of shedding our skin and even encouraging melanoma: "Bunsen Berner found it difficult making his way to the surf through all the heliolaters laid out in rows along the beach."

Word History: Today's Good Word was made up in the 19th century from Greek helios "sun" + latreia "worship, service", appropriately adapted to English. Helios came from an earlier form, sol-/sel- "the sun", which emerged in Latin as sol "sun" and solaris "of the sun". English borrowed the latter as solar. In Greek, however, initial [s] generally became [h] (cf. Latin super and Greek hyper), so we would expect helios in Greek. The original word often had a suffix -n, which turns up in Slavic words like Russian solnce and Serbian sunce, with a diminutive ending, -ce "(dear) little". The Germanic languages also used the form with the final [n], but the [l] then disappeared, resulting in German Sonne and English sun.

Dr. Goodword,

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