Sunday, August 19, 2007

Riffing On Gloaming

Gloaming is a nice Scottish word revived by Robbie Burns, so it of course shows up in "Brigadoon." Alan Jay Lerner, who wrote some terrible lyrics among the good ones for that show
Lads say a prayer I'm afraid Harry Beaton is dead.
Looks like he fell on a rock and it crushed in his head.
at least had the good sense to stick with the simple "roaming" to rhyme with gloaming. There's not much else - "combing," perhaps. (Yeah smart guy, try and work that in intelligently) - but that hasn't prevented lyricists since Cole Porter from trying to invent surprising, some would say annoying, rhymes for such things. Porter could get away with it, because he used it sparingly and did it cleverly, but Sondheim and the others who came after would have co-mingling occur to them to rhyme with "gloaming" and would be unable to let it go, forcing it in no matter how bad it sounded because it was just too cute to leave out. For vacuity, it's hard to beat Sondheim's
Days are made of moments,
All are worth exploring.
Many kinds of moments-
None is worth ignoring.
All we have are moments,
Memories for storing.
One would be so boring
But with everyone oohing and ahhing over Cole Porter for
Flying so high with some guy in the sky is my i-dea of nothing to do
what's a man looking for a Tony Award to do?

Well, he could have some self-respect, maybe.

How did I get here? A woman at work asked me about gloaming, the term for the half-light of evening: was there a complementary word for the half-light of morning? I felt there should be, but couldn't think of one. In the way that word-fascinated people do, I started striking out randomly from the word, hoping that one thing would set off another, and some morning-gloaming word would occur to me. Gloaming, see glooming, not just the half-light but the state of darkening...all those gl- words about light are related: glimmer, glowing, glamour, glisten, glint, glimpse, gleam, glitter, glow... huh...there must be an Indo-European root underneath all that...I wonder if gold, gilt, gild are related...

Nope. Nothing. I'll have to look it up after all.

There is no equivalent word for morning half-light. The Proto-Germanic or Gothic root you would have to use is unwieldy, so if you want to make one up I recommend using the Greek root and coining eoning.

And... very cool, gold, etc are related; sort of second cousins. The Indo-European root is *ghel, from which we not only get yellow, but gall, because bile is a yellowish color, but also chole- and chloro-, yellowish-green.

The best quote from the google-search of gloaming came from a London theater critic reviewing Jerry Hall's nude scene in the stage production of "The Graduate." Yes, that Jerry Hall, the Mick Jagger girlfriend, about my age... where was I? "Two fried eggs in the gloaming was all I saw." I wish I'd said that.

"You will, Oscar, you will." (What's that from?)


Anonymous said...

So, dawn doesn't count?
I like the word crepuscular, though it doesn't have the lovely softness of gloaming.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

No, dawn doesn't count, at least not to this particular woman on that particular question. As a complement of "dusk" it is quite proper, she thinks, but "gloaming" is subtly different than "dusk." I suspect she's right, though I'd be hard pressed to explain it. Dusk is what happens to the sky, while gloaming is what happens to the objects that we see, perhaps.

Anonymous said...

In his defense, SJS has the tough problem in the lyric you quote of writing for a vacuous character. Not that the Into the Woods score isn't hard to take; but I wouldn't put its author on the level of Lerner.