One of the mysteries of the English language finally explained.
An appearance of St. Elmo's fire on a mast, rigging, or other structure.
- ‘During a typhoon in the Sea of Japan, the ship is torn of her canvas and the masts come aglow with the corposants, St Elmo's Fire, a source of deep superstition to sailors, who believed them to be a portentious omen, ‘God's burning finger… laid upon the ship’.’
- ‘Castor and Pollux were also the names given by Roman sailors to St. Elmo's Fire, or the corposant phenomenon, when the flame effect on the mast of a ship appeared double.’
- ‘Everybody knows nowadays that a corposant is nothing whatever but an electrical phenomenon, and therefore merely an indication that the atmosphere is surcharged with electricity.’
- ‘The most stunning demonstration of its unearthly spell occurs late in Pequod's ill-fated voyage, when the ship is illuminated by an eerie outburst of corposants in the midst of a violent squall.’
- ‘Seeing St. Elmo's Fire, jolly Stubb changed to pleading Stubb: ‘The corposants have mercy on us all!’’
Mid 16th century: from Old Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian corpo santo ‘holy body’.
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