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    Re: Etymology of "loom"?
    From: Frank Reed
    Date: 2009 Sep 10, 16:51 -0700

    First, the connection between "looming" and "luminous" is probably not 
    etymological. Short words with "oo" are usually, though not always, very old 
    and Germanic in origin, while "luminous" comes from Latin. Despite the low 
    likelihood of a direct connection between these two words, the similarity in 
    sound may have led to some shift in the meaning of "looming" over the 
    centuries. 
    
    Looming is a fascinating little word... John, you should dig around in Google 
    Books. Go to the Books Advanced Search page and enter "looming" as your 
    search term and then try various time periods. For example, enter 1750 as the 
    high date. I did not realize that "looming" was originally a seaman's term. 
    Phrases like "looming disaster" applied figuratively seem to be more common 
    much later (19th century?). The OED is still the definitive source for 
    etymologies. If you look the word up there, you find instances of the 
    nautical meaning from the late 16th century but also the figurative meaning 
    from the same period. There is a suggested etymology in the OED connecting it 
    with an old Frisian word and proposing that the original meaning was to "come 
    slowly toward".
    
    From a dictionary c.1707 in the strictly nautical sense:
    "The looming of a ship is her perspective, as she appears at a distance great or little."
    
    The OED has a similar quotation from 1627.
    
    Also, by the end of the 18th century, looming came to be attached to a 
    specific refraction phenomenon. It's still used that way today in some 
    technical discussions of refraction. Here are two examples of the specific 
    refractional sense of looming:
    
    Thomas Jefferson writing on looming in 1782:
    "Having had occasion to mention the particular situation of Monticello for 
    other purposes, I will just take notice that its elevation affords an 
    opportunity of seeing a phenomenon which is rare at land, though frequent at 
    sea. The seamen call it looming. Philosophy is as yet in the rear of the 
    seamen, for so far from having accounted for it, she has not given it a name. 
    Its principal effect is to make distant objects appear larger, in opposition 
    to the general law of vision, by which they are diminished. I knew an 
    instance, at Yorktown, from whence the water prospect eastwardly is without 
    termination, wherein a canoe with three men, at a great distance was taken 
    for a ship with its three masts. I am little acquainted with the phenomenon 
    as it shows itself at sea; but at Monticello it is familiar. There is a 
    solitary mountain about 40 miles off in the South, whose natural shape, as 
    presented to view there, is a regular cone ; but by the effect of looming, it 
    sometimes subsides almost totally in the horizon ; sometimes it rises more 
    acute and more elevated ; sometimes it is hemispherical; and sometimes its 
    sides are perpendicular, its top flat, and as broad as its base. In short, it 
    assumes at times the most whimsical shapes, and all these perhaps 
    successively in the same morning. "
    
    William Scoresby, Jr. on "looming" in the arctic c.1820 (only the first part 
    is on looming but the rest was too much fun to pass up):
    "There are several phenomena of the atmosphere caused by refraction, which 
    deserve to be noticed. Under certain circumstances, all objects seen on the 
    horizon, seem to be lifted above it a distance of 2 to 4, or more minutes of 
    altitude, or so far extended in height above their natural dimensions. Ice, 
    land, ships, boats, and other objects, when thus enlarged and elevated, are 
    said to loom. The lower parts of looming objects, are sometimes connected 
    with the sensible horizon, by an apparent fibrous or columnar extension of 
    their parts, which columns are always perpendicular to the horizon : at other 
    times, they appear to be quite lifted into the air, a void space being seen 
    between them and the horizon. This phenomenon is observed most frequently on 
    or before an easterly wind, and is generally considered as indicative of 
    such.
    
    When the glaciers, lying to the south of Bern and Neufchatel, "appear nearer, 
    plainer, and larger than usual, the country man looks for rain to follow," 
    which commonly occurs the next day. "And the Tartars at the mouth of the 
    river Jenisei in Siberia, look upon a magnificent appearance of the islands, 
    as the presage of a storm ."
    
    A most extraordinary appearance of the Foreland or Charles's Island, 
    Spitzbergen, occurred on the 16th of July 1814. While sailing to the 
    southward along the coast, with an easterly wind, I observed what appeared to 
    be a mountain, in the form of a slender but elevated monument. I was 
    surprised that I had never seen it before; but was more astonished when I 
    saw, not far distant, a prodigious and perfect arch, thrown across a valley 
    of above a league in breadth. The neighbouring mountains disclosed the cause, 
    by exhibiting an unnatural elevation, with the columnar structure of looming 
    objects. Presently, the scene was changed; the mountains along the whole 
    coast, assumed the most fantastic forms; the appearance of castles with lofty 
    spires, towers and battlements, would, in a few minutes, be converted into a 
    vast arch or romantic bridge. These varied and sometimes beautiful 
    metamorphoses, naturally suggested the reality of fairy descriptions; for the 
    air was perfectly transparent, the contrast of snow and rocks was quite 
    distinct, even in the substance of the most uncommon phantasms, though 
    examined with a powerful telescope, and every object seemed to possess every 
    possible stability. I never before observed a phenomenon so varied or so 
    amusing. The land was not alone affected by this peculiar refraction, since 
    every object between the N. E. and S. E. points of the compass, was more or 
    less deformed by it. A mass of ice on the horizon, appeared of the height of 
    a cliff, and the prismatic structure of its front, suggested the idea of 
    basaltic columns. It may be remarked, that these phenomena took place on a 
    clear evening, after an uncommonly warm afternoon."
    
    -FER
    
    
    
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