In a Word: Halcyon

April 11, 2011|By John McIntyre, The Baltimore Sun

Each week, The Sun's John McIntyre presents a moderately obscure but evocative word with which you may not be familiar — another brick to add to the wall of your working vocabulary.

This week's word: HALCYON

In classical antiquity it was thought that a bird, identified with the kingfisher, made a nest floating in the sea and that during its breeding season at the solstice, it calmed the wind and waves. The Greek word was alkuon or halkuon. From it, we get the English halcyon (pronounced HAL-see-un) to describe a past period of idyllic happiness and peace. It is a word ripe with nostalgia, usually appearing in the phrase "halcyon days."

There is a short street in Baltimore's Lauraville neighborhood, Halcyon Avenue. I have traveled it a number of times without noticing either kingfishers or idyllic happiness.

Example: We think back with longing to those halcyon days of joy and promise in high school, those times when children were respectful of their elders, those times when proper grammar was taught and everyone used it, those times that were, like the bird whose nesting calmed the sea, imaginary.

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