I’m often surprised by the number of words and phrases that exist in a particular area of the English language. This was the case when I started to look at the language around light and all the things it does and the various ways it appears. Indeed, there are so many words that this will be a 2-part blog post.
Let’s start with the basic idea of ‘to send out light’, for which we often use the verb shine: The sun was shining. / I could see car lights shining through the fog. Shine is also used transitively to mean ‘to point a light in a particular direction’: He shone the torch on the path ahead. It additionally means ‘to reflect light, in a way that is attractive’: I find this shampoo really makes my hair shine. / She polished the wood till it shone. Another verb with this last meaning is gleam: The bathroom is gleaming! Who cleaned it?
A slightly more technical expression meaning ‘send out light’ is emit light: Most bulbs emit a white light that’s like daylight. A phrasal verb with the same meaning is give out: This lamp gives out a softer, warmer light.
If light reflects, or if a surface reflects light, the light shines back off a surface and is not absorbed by it: Moonlight reflected off the surface of the water.
A number of words refer to strong light. If a light dazzles or blinds you, it is so bright, you can’t see for a short time: She emerged from the cave, dazzled by the sunlight. / As I turned the corner, I was blinded by the low winter sun. We also use the adjectives dazzling and blinding for light that is extremely strong: The light was so bright, it was almost dazzling. / There was a sudden bang and a blinding flash of light.
Still with strong light, light that is too bright, in a way that is not comfortable or convenient, is often referred to as glare: glasses that reduce the glare of headlights. Glare is also used as a verb: The midday sun glared down on us.
The adjective brilliant describes a light that is extremely bright. It generally has a positive association: These paintings convey the vivid colours and brilliant sunshine of the Mediterranean. As a contrast, a harsh light is too bright and makes things look unattractive: In the harsh morning light, he looked old and tired.
We’ll finish with a useful phrase. If something catches the light, it reflects the light and shines: This picture captures beautifully the way her necklace catches the light.
In the next post on this theme, we’ll look at words for light that moves, or seems to move.