If I had to name any reason why I love studying and sometimes look up words or meanings in French or in English (less in other languages, though sometimes I do look up some Japanese or German, because I’m only fluent in the first two) it would be because it’s always surprisingly interesting to learn about the history and the evolution of a word. Where it comes from, what it meant, what it means now and how you’re supposed to spell/pronounce it, I find this exercise to be quite fun! Most of the time it happens because I’m not sure about how a word translates from a language into another or what the words means or how it’s spelled, but sometimes I do just think of a word and look it up and then keep looking at other words, and that goes on and on until I finally remember I have other things to do…
The reason I am telling you about this is because recently I have made a new discovery (well, actually I think I had already realized this before but it became blatantly apparent yesterday) which adds to the irk I have when I can’t find the right translation/equivalent from one language to the other. So yesterday I discovered that… there is no word for dusk in French. And it unnerves my to a point where I might even say that I can’t even. (Yeah, that much.) I believe you all know the word dusk, its spelling, pronunciation and meaning, but still let me give you the details here.
So dusk is the moment, in the evening, just after the sunset, when the sun has disappeared below the horizon but when you can still see its light, it’s basically the moment when all light disappears just before night. The equivalent for the morning would be dawn, the moment when light starts to come back at the horizon. In a day, in order, you have night (no sunlight), then dawn (sunlight but no sun), sunrise (the sun appears), the day passes, then the sun sets, sunset (the sun starts to disappear below the horizon), dusk (no more sun but still some light) and then night again. The moment in between dawn and sunrise or sunset and dusk are called twilight, when you can see the light of the sun but not the sun itself, which means that dawn and dusk are literally the first and last lights of the day. So there can be a morning twilight and an evening twilight.
Now that knowledge in itself is quite interesting, especially for a writer, when you want to write about the beginning or the ending of the day. I realized, while reading the articles about that subject, that I, myself, had often thought sunrise and dawn to be the same thing for sunset and dusk, I even mistook twilight‘s meaning. Now, however it is ever so clear, and I feel all the better for it! Unfortunately, knowledge comes with a price, and a second realization followed this first one. I did of course look up all this vocabulary in French, being a multilingual writer and reader I had to know for myself, and oh despair! I didn’t find a word in my mother tongue that could be considered and equivalent to it.
There are words for the rest though, but not as ‘cool’, if I might say so, as in English. What I mean by this is that we use phrases or expressions and not single words to describe these events.
Night is translated into nuit or la nuit. Day is jour or le jour. Twilight, I found out, is called le crépuscule, which is a nice word I have to admit. Dawn is l’aube, which is also a cool word to have. Up to that point it’s quite straightforward and the same but then it gets harder. Sunrise and sunset are very simple and easy to understand words but in french we don’t really have that. We have lever de soleil, which literally translates as the rising/rise of the sun, for sunrise and coucher de soleil for sunset, so yeah, you might say that it is also quite nice to have phrase/expressions like this but having a single and precise word for these things would be way cooler in my opinion. Well, I’m not being entirely frank about all this, we do have a word for sunrise: aurore, which I find extremely beautiful and poetic (just as aube) and which is awesome, but yet, nothing for coucher de soleil…
Part 2 over here !