Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I have been told that darkness is better to use than blackness; that blackness is not correct.

But what about this intellectual giant Carl Sagan here (0:52):

http://youtu.be/dj_MZ6i5Dr0?t=52s

He said "blackness" with the stress on that word and he certainly is aware of English.

So, my question is: why couldn't I use the word blackness instead of the word darkness if it is more logical (reference to the black color instead of vague dark which can also be dark-brown, dark-red etc.) and Carl Sagan use it too?

I am really curious about that, because when I used word "blackness" on several occasions people smiled at me and told me it is wrong.

Is it OK to use that word in the academic world and just stay away from it when dealing with casual people who speak English?

share|improve this question
1  
You need to provide us some context. What is the exact sentence in which you are using the word blackness? –  Jim Nov 5 '12 at 6:57
2  
Check the video link please. I have set it circa 5 or 10 seconds before he uses the word "blackness". –  Derfder Nov 5 '12 at 6:58
3  
Well, unless you are repeating the exact same sentence that Carl is saying, then knowing what Carl says has relatively little to do with what you are saying when people smile at you and tell you it is wrong. –  Jim Nov 5 '12 at 7:10
    
Just forget about the part with smile ;) . I have used it only to make it sound more funny. Anyway, could you please specify what do you mean by "unless you are repeating the exact same sentence that Carl is saying" . Is the sentence unique in some way? In which way exactly? Thanks in advance for further clarification. –  Derfder Nov 5 '12 at 7:12
    
'black' is darker (and blacker) than 'dark' –  Mitch Nov 5 '12 at 17:17
add comment

5 Answers

up vote 8 down vote accepted

Although listed as synonyms, they are used differently. Darkness means dark or the absence of light. For example:

Light shone in the darkness.

It's unidiomatic to say light shone in the blackness, unless it's something metaphorical.

In addition, darkness means night or evil.

As darkness fell, we started packing.(night)

The forces of darkness took over the jungle. (evil, magic, etc.)

Would be strange or would convey different meaning to say:

As blackness fell, we started packing.

The forces of blackness took over the jungle.

These are not wrong, but they don't seem idiomatic to me.

Blackness in general means the opposite of white color or whiteness(as in your case). So you could say:

Black coffee, hair, etc. or the blackness of the coffee, hair, etc.

Or

Dark coffee, dark hair, etc.

share|improve this answer
    
But majority would use darkness instead of blackness. Why? E.g. this youtuber is using catch phrase: Intor of darkness, then redness, then whiteness, here: youtu.be/bRHFFkqjV8w?t=16s Why he doesn't use blackness instead of darkness when he is using other colors like red, white also? –  Derfder Nov 5 '12 at 7:36
    
@Derfder: Context matters. They are used differently in different contexts. They could be used as synonyms in some contexts but not all. –  Noah Nov 5 '12 at 7:38
    
so when talking about the Universe, could I use word blackness. E.g. "Small dot of light in a huge blackness."? Or does it sound weird to an English native speaker? –  Derfder Nov 5 '12 at 7:42
    
@Derfder: I would use darkness. BTW— darkness is more like the concept and blackness the color itself. –  Noah Nov 5 '12 at 7:52
    
So my next question emerges. Why did Carl Sagan use 'the word blackness? Is he some kind less aware of English then the average American citizen? –  Derfder Nov 5 '12 at 8:24
show 3 more comments
  • Darkness is shortage of light. Not necessarily absence; think shadows, night time, movie theaters, etc.
  • Blackness is either complete absense of light, or presence of black.

An example of the former is a pitch-black environment, with no light at all. An example of the latter is the blackness of space, where there is light coming from the stars, but it doesn't illuminate the space between, so the space is black. Black objects, black dye, etc. would also fit the latter definition.

So blackness is dark, but darkness is not necessarily black.

share|improve this answer
    
What about the video example from Carl Sagan. Can you explain me why he chose "blackness" instead of "darkness"? –  Derfder Nov 5 '12 at 8:27
1  
@Derfder actually Stephen pretty much directly addressed Mr Sagan's usage of the word. –  RegDwigнt Nov 5 '12 at 11:02
add comment

I can't add much to the semantic distinctions between the two words discussed above, but I can note that 'blackness' is a less frequently used word, and as such has a more poetic sound and function. 'Blackness' indicates something more stark or profound than simply 'darkness'. Although they both have the hard consonant sound, 'blackness' carries more inherent emphasis with its æk sound.

share|improve this answer
add comment

I did not notice a mention of the truest quality of black or blackness, and some miss statements of what blackness is. Black(ness) is the exact opposite of darkness, without regard to the obvious optics. Dark(ness), as stated is the absence of light. Black(ness) (not previously defined) is the absorption of all light. All colors are perceived by humans as the quality of light that is absorbed vs what is reflected. White reflects everything, black reflects nothing. And by scale, all the other colors are different measures of the same light except that which is accepted and that not accepted is reflected to present the color we see (example: electromagnetic radiation at 700nm = red).

Try this, take samples of the same materials in different colors and lay them out in the sun. Be sure that all the samples are made of the same stuff and be sure to include white and black. After exposure to the sun for a while, feel the different samples. You should notice that the black sample is the hottest and the white the coldest. This is because the black sample absorbs all of the suns energy and does not reflect any. The white dose the exact opposite. If you are so inclined, then take those same samples and place them in total darkness. When you check again for temperature you should fine that they are all the same. "If you wanna really get freaky" get some of that really expensive super sensitive temperature measuring gizmos, then do the same experiment with just a little light, then check the temp and you will still see the slightest difference between the colors, resulting in the black still being the warmest and white the coolest. (then, if you have nothing better to do, try it with different color lights)

In the social and cultural application they are used interchangeably, which is annoying to me because black is used to imply evil or bad which is the correctly implied, historically and theologically as "darkness".

My two cents, keep the change.

share|improve this answer
add comment

When the interview was recorded in 1989 the term "african-american" wasn't in common use. Now when people hear blackness they want to automatically insert "african-american" into the sentence, thus resulting in the strange reactions you are seeing.

Carl Sagan was correct about what he was describing, and he used a noncontroversial phrase. Now more than 20 years later your use of the phrase seems to startle people. Times change, and so do words.

share|improve this answer
1  
Whut? For a start, not all Black people are American. –  TRiG Nov 5 '12 at 12:09
    
This answer makes no sense. In 1989, the politically correct adjective for "African-American" was "black". –  Peter Shor Jan 4 '13 at 19:18
add comment

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.