Thursday 29 July 2010

Lucubrating Lychnobites

If, like me, you yawn all morning, try slyly to snooze all afternoon, start to feel tolerable in the evening, but don't truly wake up until you hear the chimes at midnight, you are a lychnobite. This comes from the Greek lokno-bios, which literally means lamp-life. For your life is lived in the shadow of the earth.

Lychnobite was invented by Seneca to describe noctivagant souls like me. It was then invited into English by Nathan Bailey in his Universal Etymological Dictionary of 1727. He defined lychnobite as 'a night walker', but the meaning has now spread to night shift workers and sleepless fishermen.

When, in the small and wee hours, I find myself with nothing to do, I settle down and knock off couple of posts for Inky Fool. I lucubrate. I produce lucubrations.

To lucubrate is to work by artificial light, from the Latin lucubrare. As I have usually had a few drinks by that time, what you end up reading are the lubricated lucubrations of a lychnobite.

Incidentally, the small hours are just as long as the other ones. I've checked. It is the o'clocks - one, two, three - that are small.


  1. Ah well then, perhaps narcolepsy should be taken off the table, as this sounds awfully familiar. (As written about in a recent post)

    Wonderful song.

  2. L. M. Montgomery uses the phrase "the wee sma's" :-)

  3. I just changed my GTalk status message to: "A lychnobite, noctivagant in my lucubrations". I considered adding something about drinks and lubrication, but the result was dangerously prone to misinterpretation so I scratched it out.

  4. Deniz - was that in Emily of New Moon? She was always having "white nights" where she couldn't sleep. I used to love the Emily books.

  5. Would you believe I still haven't read those? It was in the Anne of Green Gables series.
    White nights makes me think of Dostoyevsky...

  6. Surely, "the small hours" refers to the (shorter) "watches of the night" in the pre-clock days of time-reckoning. In Summer, of course, the night hours were even shorter than the rest of the year. I've been unable to find any authority to back up this theory, but then my references are limited right now.

  7. The Antipodean, about to provide Dogberry with further evidence, sighed and30 July 2010 at 02:37

    Dogberry, at least you're not lugubrious. (A word that sounds like what it means if ever I heard one.)

    And Deniz & Mrs M, I've just remembered I lent my Emily books to someone and need to get them back - many thanks. We may not be the same person Mrs M, but I suspect we're kindred spirits: of the race that knows Joseph.

  8. Scott,
    I think you must have read it on Inky Fool in this post. I got that out of some book on ancient Rome.
    Those hours would therefore be shorter in the summer and longer in the winter. So there's not reason for singling them out for smallness.
    The small numbers theory is the OED's, and I see no reason to disagree.
    Deborah, Another song for you.