Q From Jeffrey: I heard a word in a trivia game: ascian. Apparently, it means ‘Without a shadow’. Is that like having no shadow on a rainy day or something that’s completely impossible?
A Neither, as it turns out.
The word first appears as a plural noun in its Latin form of Ascii in the seventeenth century, in a work by Nathanael Carpenter entitled Geography Delineated Forth in Two Books. He used it to describe people who lived in the tropics, for whom the sun at noon twice a year stands overhead, and so cast no shadows. The English form of the noun, Ascians, isn’t recorded until 1847. The Oxford English Dictionary doesn’t mention the adjective, though it is given in Chambers and several American dictionaries.
The Latin is derived from the Greek a-, without, as in words like aseptic, plus skia for shade or shadow. Like a lot of other words of Greek origin, the hard k has been softened, so the adjective is pronounced /ˈæʃɪən/ .
Either as noun or adjective, it’s rare.
Page created 12 Feb. 2000
Last updated 19 Feb. 2000
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