• perihelion •
pe-rê-heel-yên • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: The point nearest the sun in the orbit of a planet or other celestial body.
Notes: Today's Good Word is still close enough to its Greek origin to retain the Greek plural form: perihelia. Be sure to remember this; it always impresses friends and intimidates enemies. The adjective is perihelial. The antonym of this word is aphelion, the point in an orbit the farthest away from the sun.
In Play: The perihelion and aphelion should not be confused with the equinoxes and solstices. An equinox is the time when the sun 'crosses' the equator: the vernal equinox in the spring, the autumnal equinox in the fall. Days and nights are approximately equal when this occurs (around March 21 and September 23). Solstices occur when the Sun is farthest from the equator, about June 21, the longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere, and December 21, the shortest day of the year. (The longest and shortest days are reversed in the Southern Hemisphere.)
Word History: Perihelion is an alteration of New Latin perihelium, made up of Greek peri "around, near" + helios "sun". The original PIE word for "sun" was something like *sawel-, which turned up in Latin as sol "sun", whose adjective is solaris, the genesis of English solar. The Germanic languages apparently added a suffix -n, which resulted in the loss of the [l], giving English its sun and German its Sonne. (Today's Good Word was given to us by Pierre Brassard of Canada, upon whom we hope the sun shines perennially.)
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