Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Sensory Word of the Week

This week is the 5th post in a mini-series of words ending in -escence or -ecent. The Latin root escent means "beginning, becoming, tending to be," and I'm realizing that several words with that ending describe things and experiences that are wonderfully multi-sensory. Today's word, of course, falls in line, as it describes something that can be felt, seen, and in many cases even sensed through scent or sound (just think of what you smell and hear when you strike a match.)

According to, incandescent means "emitting light as a result of being heated." defines incandescent as "glowing or white with heat." The word can also refer to figurative glowing, such as "masterly; extraordinarily lucid" or "aglow with ardor, purpose, etc." Incandescent comes from the Latin prefix in meaning "within" followed by candere meaning "to glow or shine." Much of the light we experience in our daily lives is produced through incandescence—light from the sun, stars, fire. Some light bulbs are incandescent because they contain a filament, and when  electric current passes through it, the filament produces light. Not all light bulbs are incandescent (many of us now use more efficient compact fluorescent bulbs), but all candles are incandescent, and in fact, the word candle comes from the same Latin root candere.

Do you remember the name of the candlestick in Disney's Beauty and the Beast? Lumière! Most of the supporting characters were named after words that described the inanimate object they embodied and brought to life: Cogsworth the clock, Chip the chipped teacup, Mrs. Potts the teapot. But in fact Lumière the candlestick is a bit of a misnomer. Luminescent, which was last week's sensory word, refers to light emitted by anything EXCEPT heat. Nonetheless, both describing words reference something giving off light.

I mentioned last week on the blog that several escent-ended words were related to luminescent, and there are a slew of them that  are a specific type of luminescence. They all fall under the luminescent umbrella, if you will, describing the emission of light through something other than heat.  Fluorescence is "the property of absorbing light of short wavelength and emitting light of longer wavelength," according to This difference in wavelengths accounts for why fluorescent materials may appear to be different colors when exposed to different kinds of light. Phosphorescence is similar to fluorescence, but it happens over an extended time period (think glow-in-the-dark toys that appear a different color in the dark.)

In addition, I suggest checking out this chemistry website that shares a VERY extensive list, and here are just a few of my favorites:
  • Sonoluminescence - refers to light produced as a result of sound waves
  • Bioluminescence - describes organisms that naturally produce light (many of these are ocean-dwelling, but there are also several species of bioluminescent fungi)
  • Chemiluminescence - light produced by a chemical reaction
  • Thermoluminescence - light emitted when solids and crystals are only mildly heated (seems like a slippery slope, but more than mild would mean they're incandescent)
Next week, the series will continue. If you have a word to share, and perhaps a picture to go with it, please pass it along! You can always reach me at

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