Sunday, December 09, 2012

Soft, Green Light, Drawing Pictures on the Ground That Change With the Blowing Wind

Something I am nearly embarrassed to own up to: The post title is a haiku. One of those moods, I guess — like the ones that made me post about other words for beautiful phenomena that you might not expect have a name, such as psithurism or petrichor.

In some ways, I haven’t changed much since I became an adult, or maybe I still haven’t become an adult, but I have this habit of wandering off from the group, camera in hand, hoping to score a snapshot of a tree or a rock or that one squirrel — the one who looked at me! — that no one else would have considered remarkable. As a kid, I would get lost. As an adult, I still get lost. For better or worse, I often manage to wander off somewhere private and special, and I find something that no one else has. While in New Zealand last week, I spent a good fifteen minutes on my own, trying to capture the interplay between the sun and the leaves on this particular tree. This was the most successful photo, which isn’t to say that it’s a successful photo, exactly, but nonetheless it’s what I got:

Damn leaves, fidgeting about all nervously, but then again the movement made it beautiful. I guess a still photo just can’t reproduce the elusive sparkle of the sun shining through here and there, for a moment at a time. Anyway, I was curious to find out if anyone, anywhere had a word for this. Someone did.
komorebi (koh-moh-reh-bee) — noun: sunlight shining through trees.
You Japanese-fluent out there might have a better definition, but I went with the straightforward one from this site, which also points out that komorebi is not unique in Japanese: The language has other words that refer to specific natural phenomena, such as samidare, “early summer rain,” or nagokaze, “gentle spring breeze.” And those are neat. As for komorebi, other sites suggest “the scene produced by interplay of sunlight and trees” or “the light that filters through the trees,” but I think you get the idea.

I can’t offer any more. Someone else could take a stab at the etymology, I suppose. I can only send you in the direction of this link, which should probably improve your day.

Previous words of the week after the jump.


  1. Hmm, I hadn't heard of komorebi before. It's written 木漏れ日 or 木洩れ陽. It looks like it breaks down etymologically to tree-leaking through-sun(light). Normally, that would be pronounced "ki moreru hi" in modern Japanese, but it looks like this is a case of a word being fossilized then contracted and sound changed, like how "prithee" in English was a sound change contraction of "pray thee."

    1. Dude, fossilized words are my favorite thing. Have you read about cranberry morphemes before?

  2. The closest English equivalent I can think of is dapple, but that's not quite right either. I think this is one of those words, like pareidolia, that you learn expecting to get a lot of use out of, but alas...

    1. I will have you know that I use this word, like, every day now. No one knows what the fuck I'm talking about, sure, but it's still a word.