THE AMATEUR WORD NERD: Hear that? It’s just pshithurism

By Barbara McAllister

Word of the Day: Psithurism

The approach of fall is a magical time to watch leaves change color before they eventually float to the ground. On a breezy day, you might hear the leaves rustle musically as they sway gently in the wind. That sound of those rustling leaves is called “psithurism” (pronounced SITH-err-iz-um. The P is silent). It’s a Greek word that means “whispering.” Henry Wadsworth Longfellow captured the magic of psithurism in his poem “A Day of Sunshine”: “I hear the wind among the trees, Playing celestial symphonies.”
It’s a lovely word we should use more often. The English language has developed terms to describe natural phenomena inspired by our connection to the natural world around us. There’s a word to describe the distinctive, earthy smell outdoors right after a rain: petrichor, also with Greek roots. Moonglade is a beautiful word that refers to the track of moonlight shining on water. It creates a moonwake, the phenomenon of the moon’s reflection that appears to follow one’s movement along the shore. Apricity is the warmth of the sun in winter, from the Latin apricus, sunny. To apricate is to bask in the sun. Cats especially love to apricate.
Frondescence refers to the gentle unfurling of leaves observed in trees and plants. The Japanese have the word yugen to describe a deep awareness of the indescribable wonder of the universe when the beauty and mystery of nature stir profound emotions too deep to convey with mere words.