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20 March 2015

Eclipse

So earlier today—across the UK and much of north-western Europe, at least—this happened:

The Moon, photobombing the Sun  (The Guardian)

A solar eclipse. The first one approaching a total eclipse of the Sun in the UK for more than fifteen years. Although here at HaggardHawks HQ, while the Moon was spectacularly blocking out the Sun, the rainclouds were spectacularly blocking out the Moon. This is the UK, after all. 

But anyway. What can we tell you about eclipses?

Well, the word eclipse first appeared in English in the fourteenth century. Like pretty much every English word dating from the fourteenth century, its earliest record comes from Geoffrey Chaucer, who used it in 1374 in a translation of a work by the Roman scholar Boethius. Before then, the word was borrowed into English from French, but its earliest origins lie in its Latin and Greek equivalents, eclipsis and ekleipsis.

The initial ec– of eclipse is the Greek word ek, meaning “out” or “outside of”. It’s the same ec– as in words like eccentric (literally “outside of the centre”), ecstasy (literally “out of place”), and anecdote (literally “not given out”—or, to put it another way, “unpublished”). But it can also be found in words like appendectomy and tonsillectomy, in both of which it appears alongside the Greek word for “cut”, temnein; the surgical suffix ectomy literally means “cut out”.

The –lipse of eclipse is leipsis, a Greek word essentially meaning “a failing”, “a leaving”, or “a shortfall”. Put these two roots together, and you’ll get the Greek verb ekleipein, which was once variously used to mean “to fail to appear”, or “to not be in your usual place”. And from there, it’s easy to see how the word came to be attached to lunar and solar eclipses. 

Although it helps that the weather is better in Greece.

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