Image for illustrative purpose only.
Mary Schmich, Tribune News Service
Apricity. If you live in or near Chicago — or any place where the grey skies have brightened lately and you no longer feel as cold as death — this is the word you’ve been looking for. Even if you didn’t know you were looking for it, it’s the word you’ve been feeling as you sense the change of mood and color, as your mind shifts from despair to something that resembles hope.
It means “the warmth of sun in winter.”
I’d never heard the word until a year or so ago when a Tribune reader introduced me to it, telling me I’d like it, which I did. Now it pops into my mind like an earworm whenever someone says, “Oh my God, look at the sun today” or “A little sun changes everything” or “At least the sun is out.”
“Apricity!” cries my brain, and inevitably, when I say it out loud, the person I say it to says, “What?”
Apricity. It’s fun to say. It comes with a whiff of apricots and April. I feel lighter, brighter, warmer just rolling it around in my mind and mouth. The sound of it, the sense of it, are an antidote not only to cold and grey but to whatever daily outrage happens to be stinking up the news. I thought about writing about one of those smelly things today but then I looked out the window and discovered something I cared about more.
Sun. Light. Apricity.
According to Merriam-Webster online, the word seems to have entered the language in 1623 when a lexicographer named Henry Cockeram “recorded (or possibly invented) it for his dictionary The English Dictionary; or, An Interpreter of Hard English Words. Despite the fact that it is a delightful word for a delightful thing it never quite caught on, and will not be found in any modern dictionary aside from the Oxford English Dictionary.”
This delightful word hasn’t caught on, but because it’s one of those words that sounds nice in a vague way, it’s a good marketing tool. It has been used as the name of a vintage dress brand, an outdoor design company and a cancer treatment programme, none of which does it justice.
To fully appreciate apricity you have to live in a place where the sunshine can vanish for weeks, where the air is far from warm for a good part of the year, where 39 degrees in February can feel so balmy you think, “Hey, where are my shorts?”
If you live in a place where sun and warmth are constant, there’s a good chance you become desensitized to their charms. I’ve lived in those places. Some years ago I met someone who still does. I asked the person how life was going in that California town.
“Another day in paradise,” she said, reminding me why I’d moved. For some of us, relentless paradise isn’t paradise. It’s a bore.
Built into the idea of apricity is contrast and surprise. A winter’s day with the warmth of the sun is precious because it’s rare and unexpected. In Chicago, it’s newsworthy. When it happens, people go wild on social media, posting photos of melting ice, cooing about spring. Some of us are bold enough to open windows and brag about it.
“Enjoy the sunshine!” we say to each other. “Think spring!” We discuss the angle of the sunlight on a windowsill as earnestly as we discuss politics.
On Thursday I emailed a friend and said I hoped he was enjoying the sunshine.
“Why do we care if the sun’s out or not?” he mused in his reply, recalling a time years ago when he worked in a basement office. “During the winter, I’d go in the morning dark and enter the office and when I came out again it was dark again. I was young and carried my own sunshine, in a way, but, now, much older, I miss the sun every day it’s in hiding.”
You don’t have to be old to miss the sun when it’s in hiding. But the older you get, the more you appreciate it when it returns. It signals a return to life, which is all the more precious after the dark times.
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