Wordwatch Towers

A plain language guide to punctuation, grammar and writing well.

Summer solstice

with 4 comments

Stonehenge Summer Solstice man on stones
Image via Wikipedia

Visitors who fetch up at Wordwatch Towers will often find me grumbling to myself about something or other language related. So, I thought I would celebrate the summer solstice by not doing so for once.

Today is the longest day of the year when the sun is at its most northern point in the sky (speaking from Blighty in the northern hemisphere, that is).

‘Solstice’ is a lovely word (‘summer solstice’ does not take capitals although you will see it written as ‘Summer Solstice’— sorry, but in mitigation that was only a moanette).

I’ve been looking into the origins of the word ‘solstice’ and I found that it is Middle English from Old French, originally derived from Latin ‘sol’ meaning ‘sun’ and ‘stit’ meaning ‘stopped’ or ‘stationary’. See Oxford Dictionaries and also Merriam-Webster where you can hear the word pronounced (in a US accent).

My dictionary also tells me that ‘stit’ is from the Latin verb ‘sistere’ broadly meaning to stand still. See Brett Brunner’s blog for a fascinating insight into how this Latin verb is used in modern English.

As Dr. Judith Young, an astrophysicist and professor of astronomy, points out, the sun is not really standing still; it appears so because its sunrise and sunset directions are not changing very much.

See The Squirrelbasket’s lovely post on prehistoric sites and the summer solstice.


Technical stuff on the summer solstice from the BBC


Written by Wordwatch

21/06/2010 at 1:52 pm

4 Responses

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  1. My thanks to Dr. Young, Deborah, I’ll sleep tonight now 😉



    21/06/2010 at 2:10 pm

    • Yes, I thought that would set your mind at rest. (You and many others, I suspect.) I like to be the bearer of good news occasionally.


      21/06/2010 at 2:12 pm

  2. I heart summer for the very longggg days. I was not even thinking about today being the solstice.


    21/06/2010 at 9:52 pm

    • Hi, Lisa — yes, I know what you mean, and now the days will start getting shorter again. Not too noticeably yet, thank goodness!


      21/06/2010 at 10:02 pm

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