When I look up the word "loom" in dictionary. An example is given that "vehicles loomed out of the darkness". I cannot get the exact meaning of this sentence. For my own instinct, "out of" sounds like to appear. Is that true? Do you also think this sentence implies the vehicles appeared out of the darkness? Besides, I would like to ask that, in this sentence, whether the word "loom" emphasizes

(a) The vehicles are not clear but still visible.


(b) The vehicles are visible but not clear.

  • 2
    It implies that they seemed to appear out of nowhere (darkness). You could substitute mist or fog with the same effect. It is not a very good example of the word's meaning, but the usage is common in a literary setting. – Mick Dec 30 '16 at 10:50

To loom is an interesting verb. The idea it conveys is that of a figure which appears little by little and unclearly in the distance or from the darkness. It is often used figuratively, to suggest a threat or an incumbent menace:

  • 1540s, "to come into view largely and indistinctly," of uncertain origin. According to OED perhaps from a Scandinavian or Low German source (compare dialectal Swedish loma, East Frisian lomen "move slowly"), which is perhaps from the root of lame (adj.).
  • Early used also of ships moving up and down. Figurative use from 1590s.


Note also the idiomatic expression loom large:

  • to be worrying or frightening and seem hard to avoid.

    • The prospect of war loomed large.


  • Sauron is again taking shape. – Edwin Ashworth Dec 30 '16 at 11:28
  • I think this is a good answer, especially when both parts are taken together. To me, in the example sentence "vehicles loomed out of the darkness" it implies that: a) the vehicles were not completely clear, b) there may have been some reason to see these vehicles as potentially frightening - maybe just because of the darkness itself, but potentially there is something else going on such as a chase or attempt to sneak by a guarded area. – Robert Dec 30 '16 at 17:00

When something is said to loom it is said to be more visible, prominent, distinguishable, noticeable. Easier to see. Easier to spot.

verb (used without object) 1. to appear indistinctly; come into view in indistinct and enlarged form: The mountainous island loomed on the horizon.

2. to rise before the vision with an appearance of great or portentous size: Suddenly a police officer loomed in front of him.

The word loom does not work to emphasize the above a, b statements you wrote. To loom out of the darkness simply means to appear out of the darkness; yes, you can replace 'out of' with 'appeared' in your example sentence. Common sense tells us that vehicles just don't pop out of the darkness. What the writer is then trying to do is exaggerate the appearance of the cars as the came out of the darkness, to show the reader the fact that the cars were speeding. This is known as a figure of speech. Specifically it is a hyperbole which is a type of metaphor

Let me further address what you wrote:

(a) The vehicles are not clear but still visible.

(b) The vehicles are visible but not clear.

I do understand what you are saying. But, let us read back "...out of the darkness..." this tells us that the vehicles appeared out of nothing. There is no need to focus on the visibility of the vehicles, we should be focusing upon the speed of the vehicles.

The vehicle was going so fast it is as if it just appeared out of the darkness at night. More literally, it was going so fast that you couldn't tell if it either just appeared out of nothing (impossible) or if it had actually driven to the location. The vehicle would presumably have headlights on.

Concluding, if you are trying to determine the visibility of the vehicles from this sentence, we assume the vehicle is fully visible.

  • 1
    I disagree with this answer. The use of "Loom" in the example sentence does not imply any particular speed, as can been seen by other uses such as "Storm clouds loomed on the horizon." Also a & b are logically consistent, but fail to convey the full meaning of "to loom". – Robert Dec 30 '16 at 16:59
  • @Robert Your usage of the word is contextually different. Context changes everything. If you interpret it differently that is fine. The main point is that OP was not understanding the definition of 'loom'. I gave him the right definition, and my interpretation of the impact of using such a word (which I have justified) – silenceislife Dec 31 '16 at 8:38
  • @silenceislife I have also taken out the part addressing a & b because I misread them. – silenceislife Dec 31 '16 at 8:42

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