I was recently reading Nightwoods by Charles Frazier when I stumbled upon a word that really stuck in my mind: gloaming. Frasier uses it as a possible option for a description of the state of nightfall, which the antagonist, Bud, is experiencing. Frazier writes, “It gets to a point of darkness where you don’t know what to call it. Dusk or Night…People used to have a word, gloaming, but that’s only a snatch of memory from a song.” I do not think I had ever heard the word before, at least not in a way that would have made it memorable, but this time it just resonated with me. I find myself watching for its appearance in the evenings. It seems I have a new compulsory desire to feel its manifestation.
It’s strange how that happens, when an author uses a word well and you just can’t stop thinking about it. I later looked it up in the Oxford English Dictionary, but the somewhat stagnant definition of “Evening twilight” did not captivate me near so much as Frasier’s “snatch” of time between dusk and nightfall. As I think it over, I probably have heard the word once or twice, but it took Frasier’s unique description to make it stick. There is something mysterious about the way he describes it. For instance his use of “people.” People is a very ambiguous term. What people? And from where? Perhaps it was the combination of the strange new word and the ambiguous one, but my mind immediately jumped to the faery people of old. It must have been the mystifying quality of the idea of a “gloaming” that entranced me, but I would have never have noticed that quality had it not been for Frasier’s vivid description.
Have there ever been any particular words that an author has brought to life for you in the past?
- Shenandoah has been has featured on the list of 100 Essential Sites for Voracious Readers published on MastersinEnglish.org.
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