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Pronounced /ˈæʃɪən/Help with pronunciation

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/ Help with IPA.

Either as noun or adjective, it’s rare.

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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
Page created 12 Feb. 2000
Last updated: 19 Feb. 2000

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The English language is forever changing. New words appear; old ones fall out of use or alter their meanings. World Wide Words tries to record at least a part of this shifting wordscape by featuring new words, word histories, words in the news, and the curiosities of native English speech.

World Wide Words is copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
This page URL: http://www.worldwidewords.org/qa/qa-asc1.htm
Last modified: 19 February 2000.