Wonderful Words to Describe How We Experience Geography

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If you’ve ever stepped outside in to the crisp, cold Winter air and felt the delight of the Sun’s rays upon your face or taken a deep breathe after a spring rain storm and smelt the air, there are words to describe those sensations.

The warmth of the sun on a cold, winter day

Apricity is a rarely heard word that is used to name the feeling of the warmth of the sun on a cold winter day. Apricity comes from the Latin word “apricus” which means “sunny” or “sheltered from the wind.”

A scrub jay sits on the bare branches of a tree against a bright blue sky in the winter.
Apricity is the feeling of warmth from the sun on a cold winter day. Photo: Caitlin Dempsey.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, this obsolete word was first recorded in Henry Cockeram’s “The English Dictionarie of 1623: Or, An Interpreter of hard English Words”. Cockeram, spelling it apricitie, defines it as “The warmenes of the Sunne in winter.”

That smell after a rain

Whether you’re in a city or far out in the country, the smell of rain is a unique and lovely change from the usual smells of where we live. When a storm is about to hit we use not only our eyes to sense changes in the cloud formations, but also our noses to sense what kinds of precipitation might be headed our way.

After a short rainstorm or a prolonged period of time people might notice a fresh and damp atmosphere resulting from the rain.

This smell that accompanies the first rain after a dry spell is called petrichor.

Fog settles over a forest.
Petrichor is that unique smell that hangs in the air after the first storm. Photo: Caitlin Dempsey.

What is the origin of the word petrichor?

Petrichor is a noun that comes from Greek origins. The Greek word for stone is petros, and ichor was the fluid that flows through the blood of Greek gods in mythology.

The word petrichor was created for use in the English language by I.J. Bear and R.G. Thomas, who were researching the oils released by specific plants when it rains. The term was first published in 1964 in an article in the journal Nature.

What creates the petrichor smell?

Petrichor is produced by oils that exude from some plants when it rains after a dry spell. Oils and a substance called geosmin are produced. Geosmin is caused by the metabolic by-products of Actinobacteria. The oils produced by plants protect new seeds from the stress of weather changes that may disrupt germination.

Researchers theorize that humans respond favorably to petrichor because we would have relied on rainy weather for survival in the past. Rain meant water, the growth of edible plants, and a break from the harsh sunlight.

Petrichor is most common after light rain showers due to the aerosol effect, in which small air bubbles on porous surfaces release scents from the ground and plants.

The awe inspired by seeing the Earth from afar

When the first astronauts launched into space looked back at the Earth, they were overcome with a sense of awe. That feeling was eventually named “the Overview Effect.”

The Overview Effect is a shift in awareness by astronauts seeing Earth from outer space as a “tiny, fragile ball of life.”

Who coined the term the “overview effect”?

The phrase was coined by Space philosopher and author Frank White in 1987 who used it to describe the lasting impact and shift in thinking that seeing the Earth from space had on astronauts.

A photograph taken from the moon showing the Earth on December 24, 1968.
Earthrise, December 24, 1968. Photo: William Ander, NASA, public domain.