8 Words to Describe Darkness

"Education Dictionary Word Knowledge Definition" by PDPics

“Education Dictionary Word Knowledge Definition” by PDPics is dedicated to the public domain under CC0.

With autumn come cold and dreary days, which grow steadily shorter as the season progresses into winter. Because this lack of sunlight contributes to generally depressed attitudes throughout the cooler months, this week’s Words on Wednesdays is dedicated to finding the writers in the audience eight excellent words to describe darkness. For the gothic lit fans in the audience: a full half of these words are literary terms, so fill up your inkwells and prepare!

Cimmerian

n. any member of a mythical tribe believed to inhabit a land of perpetual mist and darkness on the border between the worlds of the living and dead

Historically, the Cimmerians were an ancient nomadic tribe in Asia Minor. In Greek mythology, however, they became the inhabitants of a dreadful sort of limbo. Their land is presumably the place where lost spirits, such as the ghost of Orpheus, wander.

crepuscular

adj. of animals, the quality of being active near twilight; or, being of twilight itself

If an animal loves the morning dew or the long shadows of nighttime, it may be referred to by this term. I would suggest, however, that this word belongs to any and all creatures of the night: human and animal, alike. As an added bonus, the cadence of the word itself suggests the creeping nature of those periods between light and darkness.

gloaming

n. a literary term for dusk

“Gloaming” bears the innately poetic rhythm that “crepuscular” lacks, but does not encompass the almost-rhyme shared between that and words like “creeping,” “creepy,” and “crepitate.” Therefore, while gloaming may be the literary standard, it might not be as much in need of a revival as other terms on this list.

lugubrious

adj. looking sad or dismal

The long vowel sounds in this word stick to the roof your mouth like peanut butter. Although sluggishness isn’t a hallmark trait of darkness, the depressingly long amount of time it takes to spit out “lugubrious” lends it a sort of extra-dismal quality.

nyctophobia

n. fear of the dark

There’s no way this can’t come in handy, even if you aren’t a writer. Scared to enter a room without first turning on the light? No need to admit you’re afraid of the dark. You aren’t a child, after all. Just look your potential bullies in the eye and say, “I have nyctophobia.”

stygian

adj. of or relating to the River Styx; or, a literary term meaning “very dark”

In Greek mythology, the Styx is one of the rivers in the Underworld. According to some stories, this river could only be crossed by paying a fee to Charon, the ferryman of the dead. Other tales held that contact with the Styx could make mortals—such as Achilles—invulnerable. Use it as you will; mixing the two definitions above to suit your writing is entirely acceptable.

subfusc

adj. a literary term meaning dull or gloomy

British readers will recognize this word as a slang term for traditional ceremonial garb at some universities. Students in the US may feel free to appropriate this term, but should keep in mind that their audiences will be more likely to identify with its traditional literary meaning.

tenebrous

adj. a literary term meaning dark, shadowy, or obscure

If you choose this word, bear in mind that it is not limited to use in physical descriptions. You will be neither original, nor trite, in using it to flesh out intangible “objects,” such as situations, relationships, or organizations.


What are your favorite words to describe darkness? Can you think of any I have missed? Let me know in the comments!

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