Word of the Week: Halcyon

Word: halcyon

Pronunciation: HAL-see-ən

Part of Speech: adjective

Definition: denoting a period of time in the past that was idyllically happy and peaceful

Source: Oxford Dictionaries


I recently revisited the 100 most beautiful words in English for vocabulary inspiration, and after this one jumped out at me, I knew I had to write about it next. Although every story must have conflict to move forward, writers still find plenty of use for adjectives to describe times of peace and happiness. When writing about past times of idyllic tranquility, you can hardly get more poetic than “halcyon”!

“Halcyon” refers to a past time period that was idyllically peaceful and happy. The word arose in late Middle English and traces back through the Latin noun alcyon to the Greek noun alkuōn, meaning “kingfisher”. This noun is thought to be derived from two roots: the noun háls “sea” and the verb kuōn “to conceive”.

If you’re curious why the Greek word for “halcyon” means “kingfisher“, it’s because the word derives from the name of Alcyone in Greek mythology: after she threw herself into the sea to be reunited with her husband Ceyx in death, the gods took pity on the tragic couple and turned them both into “halcyon” birds, otherwise known as kingfishers. It’s from this story of Alcyone and Ceyx that the phrase “halcyon days” derives, denoting the calm period in winter when no storms occur. As you’d likely expect, “halcyon” also works as a noun, either as another word for a kingfisher of the genus Halcyon or the mythical bird that, according to ancient writers, had the power to calm the wind and waves. If you write stories that mention the peaceful days of the past or the creatures of Greek mythology, “halcyon” is an interesting word to include in your writing!

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