Ancient Word of the Day: Nadir

Every Picture Tells A Story: The Horoscope of Prince Iskandar (1411)

Nadir ˈnā-ˌdir (from Arabic) The lowest or worst point. The sunken place of great depression or degradation.

Astronomically, it is the point to opposite to the zenith.

Merlin by Ralph Waldo Emerson

He shall not seek to weave,
In weak unhappy times,
Efficacious rhymes;
Wait his returning strength,
Bird, that from the nadir’s floor,
To the zenith’s top could soar,
The soaring orbit of the muse exceeds that journey’s length!

Etymology

Nadir is an ancient word coming from Arabic and is part of a rich vocabulary of ancient words related to maths, physics, astronomy and chemistry. Nadir in Arabic means opposite. The word exists in relation to zenith, which means the highest point of the celestial sphere. In Arabic, Zenith means ‘the way over one’s head’.

“Book of Wonders” by Zakarīyā ibn Muhammad al-Qazwīnī (circa 1203–83).

Treatise on the Astrolabe, c.1391 by Chaucer

The first known instance of the word in English.

A star map from ancient Persia featuring zenith and nadir

Every Picture Tells A Story: The Horoscope of Prince Iskandar (1411)
The book of the birth of Iskandar c. 1394. Positions of the heavens at the moment of Prince Iskandar’s birth on 25th April 1384. The large circle is divided into twelve sections to represent the twelve astrological houses within which, nearer the centre, the twelve signes of the zodiac appear. The planets are personified as is customary in Islamic astronomical texts with, for example, Mars in the eleventh house depicted as a warrior with a sword in one hand and a severed head in the other.

Published by Content Catnip

Content Catnip is a quirky internet wunderkammer written by an Intergalactic Space Māori named Content Catnip. Join me as I meander through the quirky and curious aspects of history, indigenous spirituality, the natural world, animals, art, storytelling, books, philosophy, travel, Māori culture and loads more.

3 thoughts on “Ancient Word of the Day: Nadir

    1. Yeah definitely. It sort of rolls off the tongue, it is still weird and exotic enough to sound fancy to everyday English…at least for me. To drop nadir or zenith into a conversation sounds rather fancy haha

      Like

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