Wordwatch Towers

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

Sparkling prose

with 13 comments

Passion of Christ
Image via Wikipedia

This is William Langley writing in the Telegraph about Mel Gibson:

However, it was in his controversial 2004 biblical epic The Passion of the Christ – a coruscatingly graphic account of the Crucifixion…(Putting the ‘Mel’ into ‘meltdown’)

In response, a reader commented:

‘Coruscating’ means glittering, so it’s hard to see how The Passion of the Christ could have been ‘coruscatingly graphic’.

I’d like to say I already knew that, but I didn’t, so I won’t. The Oxford Dictionary of English confirms that the verb ‘coruscate’ is a literary term, derived from Latin, meaning to ‘flash or sparkle’. The adjective is ‘coruscant’ . It then provides a strange suggested use which I don’t quite get:

The light was coruscating through the walls.

(Wouldn’t ‘windows’ have been better than ‘walls’ there? I digress.)

So what word should Langley have used in his piece about Gibson? I’ve been racking my brains and didn’t come up with the following suggestion (someone else did):

…an excruciatingly graphic account

Yep. That does it. Now that’s sorted, I can go back to ‘light coruscating through walls’. What, very thin walls? Glass walls?  Walls with bricks missing?

…and here’s an interesting example of  ‘coruscating’ being used wrongly in place of  ‘excoriating’.



Written by Wordwatch

23/07/2010 at 6:02 am

13 Responses

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  1. Interesting, I don’t get that quotation in the O.E.D. but it does give me the following:

    1592 R. D. Hypnerotomachia 79 A corruscant rounde Rubie.    
    1593 Nashe Christ’s T. 27 b, A Commet most coruscant.    
    1677 Sir T. Herbert Trav. 54 An Angel whose face was more coruscant than the Sun.    
    1700 J. Brome Trav. ii. (1707) 60 Bright and coruscant Luminaries.    
    1821 Southey Vis. Judgem. iv, Turrets and pinnacles sparkled, Playing in jets of light, with a diamond-like glory coruscant.


    23/07/2010 at 9:14 am

    • Hello, there — thanks so much for all those wonderful examples. How lovely! I particularly like the description of the angel, and the ‘diamond-like glory coruscant’. I’m so glad you took the time to share them.


      23/07/2010 at 9:21 am

      • Yeah, this one was lovely: “An Angel whose face was more coruscant than the Sun.”

        Michael Farrell

        23/07/2010 at 10:12 am

  2. “60 Bright and coruscant Luminaries.”

    Hmm… They could hardly be dull and corruscant. Then there’s the walls thing.

    The OED can be a very strange place at times…


    23/07/2010 at 11:28 am

    • Hi, Ron — the walls thing is the strangest thing. I keep thinking about it. Is it a typo? Did they mean halls (still strange but more physically possible)? Falls (waterfalls)? Malls (poetic shopping trip)?


      23/07/2010 at 12:00 pm

      • I Googled that phrase, thinking it might be a quotation. It’s not, but it did throw up references to chinks of light shining through a wall. Maybe that’s what they had in mind, but expressed it badly?


        23/07/2010 at 12:28 pm

        • Thanks, Ron. Yes, badly expressed, I think. I need to stop reading dictionaries.


          23/07/2010 at 1:29 pm

  3. This is off-blog Deborah, so feel free to delete, but is this idea weird, or is that just me?



    23/07/2010 at 12:30 pm

    • That’s pretty weird. I think it’s the last thing I’d think about. Plus — I find it very hard to believe that online stuff could be totally erased.


      23/07/2010 at 1:33 pm

      • On the other hand, I like this idea


        23/07/2010 at 2:30 pm

        • Thanks, Ron. I’ve not seen that before. I’m not sure about it, though. Being the old cynical hack that I am, it’s suggestive, to me, of protesting too much.


          23/07/2010 at 2:41 pm

          • Well, maybe, but it can’t hurt and it’s a step in the right direction.

            Even better – and this happened before I was invited to join Wellsphere – the blog should be thoroughly vetted before awarding the badge. That would take funding, though. And staff.


            23/07/2010 at 3:13 pm

            • …and ongoing monitoring. Too difficult and too much work, methinks.


              23/07/2010 at 3:18 pm

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