I don’t know about the rest of you, but I have been up to my eyeballs in work since January. The kind of work that drains all the energy out of your brain so all you want to do at the end of the day is pretend to be a satiated zombie (i.e., sit still, and maybe drool a little).
But earlier today, I was reading an article about dark matter (which, by the way, is actually transparent), and it got me thinking about the origins of those two words, which I’ll share with you in a minute. First, I’d like to draw your attention to the Spring 2015 issue of The Ghouls’ Review, one of those things I’ve been working on. It’s now live, and there are some wonderful writers featured in this issue. You should definitely check it out — but let’s talk about dark matter first.
The word dark is one of those great words that comes to us via Old English. It was originally spelled deorc, describing things that were gloomy, sad, or wicked. Deorc came from the Proto-Germanic word, derkaz, which was used to describe an absence of light, particularly at night. Interestingly, dark wasn’t used to describe colours until sometime in the 1500s.
But does it matter?
Matter appeared on the scene sometime in the 13th century, originally as materie, coming to English via the Old French matere, which described a topic, content, substance, or education. Matere came from the Latin materia, describing the substance from which something is made or the hard inner wood of a tree. Some linguists say that materia came from the Latin word mater, which means mother or origin. But others suggest that it came from the Proto-Indo-European root, dem-/dom-, which the Latin word domus (meaning house) and the English word timber also came from.
So, in 1933, Fritz Zwicky coined the term dark matter. Actually, he coined the term dunkle Materie because he spoke German. I’m not sure who translated it, but the term came about thanks to Zwicky’s observations of the Coma galaxy cluster. If you’d like to learn more about actual dark matter, here are a couple of good articles to get you started:
As always, thanks for reading!
Etymological information comes from a combination of the Oxford Dictionary of Etymological English and the Online Etymology Dictionary.