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Wednesday, November 21, 2012


In Oxford English Dictionary, illuminate is defined as a verb, an adjective and a noun (1). The derivatives of illuminate includes illuminating and illuminatingly (1). 

Illuminate as a verb has several slight variation in its meaning; however the essence of the word is the same (1). Some of the definitions of illuminate found in the dictionary are “to light up”, “give light to”, “remove blindness from”, “to direct a beam of any kind of radiation at”, “to shed spiritual light upon”, “to throw light upon” and “to enlighten intellectually” (1). Illuminate can be used in different contexts. For example, “to throw light upon” may be applied in a literal sense or a more metaphorical sense. “Throw light upon an object” is more literal than “throw light upon a subject”. Illuminate also means “to decorate profusely with lights”, “to set alight” and “to make resplendent or illustrious” (1).

Illuminate comes from the latin word illūmināt- which stems from illūmināre (1). illūmināre means “to throw light on, light up, brighten, set in a clear light, make illustrious” (1). illūmināre is also the past participle for illūmināt-us which is the root of the adjective and noun form of illuminate (1). Earliest proof for the use of word Illuminate can be found in the book Cron. Scotl. II  from the year 1535 by W. Stewart: “Ane feild birneist gold so bricht, That all the land illuminat with greit licht” (1). 

One of the ways that illuminate is used in modern english and science can be taken from the Journal for Social Psychlogy published in 1972. In an article: “Subjects were asked to estimate the probability that an alleged peer..would shock them when a light illuminated”(1). Another example can be taken from Physics Bull published in 1973: “A cold cathode discharge source..provided a beam of electrons which could illuminate an object such as an aperture or a wire grid” (1). 

Lighted up, enlightened spiritually, divinely taught or inspired, enlightened intellectually are all different definitions of Illuminate as an adjective (1). As a noun, illuminate means spiritually or intellectually enlightened person (1). (OED)

The meaning of illuminate can be usually understood from the context in which it is used. “illuminated a picture that hung on the wall”, “city was illuminated in a celebration of victory”, “destroyers illuminate the little boats with their searchlights”, “brilliant achievements that illuminate the era”,  and “splendid tapestries and painting illuminated the walls”. (2)

  1. Oxford English Dictionary Online. “Illuminate, adj. and n.”, “Illuminate, v.” Accessed November 16th,, 2012. Oxford University Press.  http://www.oed.com.proxy.lib.uwaterloo.ca/view/Entry/91535?rskey=gd1n6Q&result=1&isAdvanced=false#eid, http://www.oed.com.proxy.lib.uwaterloo.ca/view/Entry/91536?rskey=QVXSYb&result=2#eid
  2. Webster’s Third International Dictionary Online. “Illuminate, vt.” Acessed November 20th, 2012. http://lion.chadwyck.com.proxy.lib.uwaterloo.ca/searchFulltext.do?id=17039244&idType=offset&divLevel=2&queryId=../session/1353512349_8182&area=mwd&forward=refshelf&trail=refshelf

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