Word: numinous

Pronunciation: N(Y)OO-mə-nəs

Part of Speech: adjective

Definition: having a strong religious or spiritual quality; indicating or suggesting the presence of a divinity

Source: Oxford Dictionaries


Today’s Word of the Week was suggested by HD of No Vinyl Mind, who recommended it after reading it in a book (and again online). I admit that I myself was not familiar with this word, for as hard as I thought about it, I couldn’t recall a single instance in which I had ever heard something described as “numinous”. I did like the sound of it, though, so I jumped at the chance to research it and add another word to my vocabulary list. Thanks for the suggestion, HD!

When something is defined as “numinous”, it’s implied that it has some sort of spiritual quality or religious undertone to it. That’s because the word comes from the Latin noun numen (also used as a word in English), meaning “divine power” or “god”. This word arose in the mid 17th century and is supposedly derived from the verb nuere “to nod”, suggesting an original definition along the lines of “divine approval expressed by nodding”.

Now, according to the research I did, “numinous” can also be used to describe what is awe-inspiring, as in what evokes a mystical or sublime sense (as noted on this interesting vocabulary blog, also recommended by HD). Based on this, I’d suggest using the word to describe something so overwhelmingly magnificent that it gives the sense of having a spiritual presence (e.g. “numinous beauty of ancient landmarks”). “Numinous” itself is a fascinating word, so have fun working it into your writing. See what you can find in your own worlds with such divine character!

What are your thoughts on this word? Any suggestions for future “Word of the Week” featured words?

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