This Monday was the beginning not only of the work week, but of the summer, too. Ah, summertime: bright sun, warm beaches, cool surf, and daydreams of actually seeing any of these things while we huddle over our computers working our wordy craft.
To mark the start of this estival period and our dreams of sandy shores, here is a small collection of beach-related vocabulary, in no particular order, that can be useful whether you’re editing a novel set at seaside or playing a game of beach blanket Boggle.
The geological beginning of summer (and winter) is the solstice, from the Latin words meaning “sun” and “standing.” The solstices are the two points in the Earth’s annual revolution at which the angle of the Earth’s equator is greatest in relation to the sun. Our summer solstice is the longest day of the year in the northern hemisphere and the shortest day of the year in the southern hemisphere. It’s adjective form is solstitial.
From the Latin aestas “summer,” this adjective is a great synonym of summertime. It also leads to the perfect rhyme estival festival, the word-nerdiest summer party there is.
Many, but not all, beaches have at least one berm. Created naturally by ocean movement and sediment, a berm is a long, narrow wedge of sand or gravel that slopes down into the sea. Behind the berm, the beach slopes inward (though it may seem perfectly horizontal) toward land. Some beaches have a terraced look because they have two or three berms.
If you look out from the beach from your towel near the berm, you might see a small island made of rock or what even looks like a reef partially above water. This type of small, rocky isle goes by the name skerry (pronounced like “scary”), from an Old Norse word.
If a sand or gravel bar connects your skerry with either the mainland or another island, that bar is called a tombolo, from the Latin tumulus “mound.” A tombolo forms from sediment in the water. The shallow waters of the coastline cause waves coming in from the ocean to slow and bend around both sides of the island. Those waves then meet each other on the opposite (leeward) side and, having lost most of their energy, deposit sediment in the shape of the waveform. Over time, a tombolo can build up enough to become an isthmus.
Twice a month, right after the first and third quarter moon, the high tide is at its lowest and the low tide is at its highest. These are the neap tides, when the difference between high and low tides is minimal because of the position of the moon in relation to the sun and Earth.
The biological and zoological opposite of hibernation, estivation in its technical sense means to pass the summer in a torpid or resting state. It has come to be used more broadly, however, to describe the languid whiling away of summer with unproductive staycations, backyard barbecues, and relaxing trips to the beach.
Here’s to sweet estivation.
Image by Cristo Vlahos, CC BY-SA 3.0