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I've been racking my brain (and Googling with every search term I can think of) to remember a word that describes the glow in the sky above a city (actually, any large source of artificial light, but cities are the classic example.)

This phenomenon is obviously quite undesirable for astronomers, and so it's generally called "light pollution"; this is NOT the word I'm looking for. If I recall correctly, the term actually came into use before astronomy (and artificial light) had developed to a point where cityglow was a problem; prior to that time, it would have been seen as a positive thing: a guide on the horizon for lost travelers, a cheerful sign of civilization, etc.

If it's any help at all: 1) the word that is blocking my memory is "albedo", which is also not what I'm looking for but which keeps popping up - so I believe the two words are similar in sound/origin/etc.; 2) I remember my younger self seeing this word and chuckling because it sounded a bit dirty.

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  • What's wrong with "albedo"? It describes exactly what you're seeking and it sounds a little like "libido", a word that would probably make a younger you chuckle. Commented Mar 19, 2015 at 19:47
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    No, it doesn't describe what I'm talking about - albedo is a measure of reflectivity. You could speak of the albedo of the clouds above the city, but it's really not what I had in mind. But for what it's worth, I had made the libido connection - it's probably why I can't seem to move past "albedo". It's like a jigsaw puzzle piece that almost fits.
    – MT_Head
    Commented Mar 19, 2015 at 20:44
  • Also considered, and rejected: "aureole".
    – MT_Head
    Commented Mar 19, 2015 at 20:46
  • It's fine that you reject it but the relation to nipples makes aureole the dirtiest out of these words so far, even with one of them being an obsolete term for a cock.
    – lly
    Commented Jul 23, 2018 at 16:27
  • Also, again fine that you reject it, but the general and technical term is light pollution.
    – lly
    Commented Jul 23, 2018 at 16:29

6 Answers 6

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You might be looking for loom.

Sometimes, this sky glow is called a loom and it is spelled different ways. Some people spell it l-o-o-m and others l-u-m-e. We probably get the word "loom" from looming up in the sky, or we may get the word “lume" from the word "lumen," the unit measure of light.

The International Association of Electrical Inspectors, 1940

Here is a more explicit definition from the book U. S. Coast Guard Light Lists: Volume Six Pacific Coast and Pacific Islands:

The "loom" (glow) of a powerful light is often seen beyond the limit of visibility of the actual rays of the light. The loom may sometimes appear sufficiently sharp enough to obtain a bearing. At short distances, some flashing lights may show a faint continuous light between flashes.

OED mentions that it is a seaman's term that suggests the appearance of an object and the first recorded sense is from 1836:

A seaman's term for the indistinct and exaggerated appearance or outline of an object when it first comes into view, as the outline of land on the horizon, an object seen through the mist or darkness, etc.

  • F. Marryat Mr. Midshipman Easy II. x. 291 We're very near the land, Captain Wilson; thick as it is, I think I can make out the loom of it.

It is also used as the loom of the light:

According to my friend, Michael Sarratt, a former U.S. Navy seaman, the loom of the light is a seafarer's phrase which refers to the sky glow of a distant lighthouse not quite rising above the horizon.

The Loom of the Light By Donald Young


You also mentioned that it sounded a bit dirty when you first saw this word, and here is why it might be the case (from OED, loom, n.1):

enter image description here

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    That's almost exactly the definition I have in mind, but it's not quite the word I'm trying to recall. This is seriously frustrating me... Anyway, definitely upvoting!
    – MT_Head
    Commented Mar 19, 2015 at 23:36
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According to Wikipedia, astronomers use the term skyglow.

Edited to add synonyms

In going through the thesaurus, I found the following terms that might be what you're looking for.

  • aureola, cf. areola refers to the circle of light surrounding the head of an artistic representation of a deity or holy person.
  • lambency is something which is flickering lightly or which has a gentle glow.
  • refulgence is the quality of being bright and sending out rays of light.
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  • Skyglow. That's the first word that popped into my head when I read the question. Commented Mar 20, 2015 at 16:11
  • MW has sky glow.
    – Lambie
    Commented Apr 11 at 15:23
  • Please add definitions. Commented Apr 11 at 16:08
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Halation may be the word you are looking for. Its sound may suggest the 'dirty' fellatio:

  • a bright ring that sometimes surrounds a bright object on a television screen. (TFD)
  • City lights shone in perfect boundaries, illuminating the misty city with the perfect halation, creating a bright wonderous image.
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  • That's not quite it... but thanks.
    – MT_Head
    Commented Mar 19, 2015 at 20:42
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According to Wikipedia, the common term is 'skyglow.' The way the entry goes, the term refers to

the diffuse luminance of the night sky, apart from discrete light sources such as the Moon and visible individual stars. It is a commonly noticed aspect of (urban) light pollution.

I'm an author and I was searching for the same word. :) I hope this helps.

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  • Your answer could be improved with additional supporting information. Please edit to add further details, such as citations or documentation, so that others can confirm that your answer is correct. You can find more information on how to write good answers in the help center.
    – Community Bot
    Commented Apr 11 at 16:09
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Ora: http://www.definitions.net/definition/ora. I have seen this used in modern writing to mean the glow or essence surrounding a person or place.

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    Is that not aura? Your definition link doesn't seem to match the question.
    – Andrew Leach
    Commented Mar 20, 2015 at 14:33
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The word is ambient light. I've used that term for years to define the city nite light over any nearby city.

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    Please add a reputable reference defining this meaning.
    – CJ Dennis
    Commented Apr 10, 2020 at 3:55

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