I am trying to find a word or short phrase that conveys the idea of reflected light, dancing light, flickering light. It is for an artistic project to name an artwork piece I am constructing where light throws patterns and colours onto a wall or surface through transparent colored film.

  • Yes I've tried the usual suspects like the thesaurus but I'm trying to find a phrase which conveys the way the light reflects patterns onto a surface that can be used for the name of a product!
    – Pip
    Commented Aug 15, 2018 at 1:36
  • @Pip That sounds like a writing request. We don't do those here.
    – tchrist
    Commented Aug 15, 2018 at 2:30
  • 1
    Perhaps synonyms of capricious would lead you to inspiration. Without seeing the nature of the light, it's a bit difficult to ascertain the mood of the word you're looking for. Commented Aug 15, 2018 at 21:56

8 Answers 8



1. To give forth flashes of light; sparkle and glitter: diamonds coruscating in the candlelight.
American Heritage Dictionary

(of light) flash or sparkle.
‘the light was coruscating through the walls’
Oxford Living Dictionaries (Thanks to ubi hatt for getting this definition)

If you're familiar with Star Wars lore, you may have heard of a planet called Coruscant, which is the adjective form of the word.

You might also like scintillate:

intr.v. 1. To send forth light in flashes; sparkle
American Heritage Dictionary

Similar and simpler words like glimmer and sparkle may mean the same thing. I'm unsure if you need something that specifically means reflectance and projection of light onto objects (walls), as you mentioned. If so, none of these words capture all of that I'm afraid. I doubt there'd be one word that would encompass all of those meanings.

Given that many of these words are so similar, it may come down to whichever word you think sounds nicer.

  • Yes I'm trying to find something that does imply the reflection of the light and the patterns and colors it throws! I never thought it would be so tricky to find the perfect phrase!! Thanks for your thoughts.
    – Pip
    Commented Aug 15, 2018 at 1:41
  • 1
    I have a feeling I got upvotes for the Star Wars reference. I don't see why coruscate is any more an accurate word for the OP's needs than any other word like shimmer or glimmer. That, and it's a hella arcane word.
    – Zebrafish
    Commented Aug 15, 2018 at 3:29
  • Provide the link of oxford dictionary. It particularly states (of light).
    – Ubi.B
    Commented Aug 15, 2018 at 3:32
  • @ubihatt Yeah, I guess, but so do other words mention "light". And also, I don't want to selectively choose a definition from one particular dictionary which reinforces my answer's suitability. Although I can't deny I've done it before.
    – Zebrafish
    Commented Aug 15, 2018 at 3:38
  • +1 for obscure words! Sometimes, an artistic title needs an obscure word or two. The OP will have to decide if the Star Wars connection is good or bad in relation to their work, but it was probably good to mention it (I didn't actually know the planet's name, so I would have completely missed the connection). Commented Aug 15, 2018 at 18:01

You mention reflected light but note later that the light will be transmitted through a film. Therefore, you may find the term kaleidoscopic useful; the term most specifically describes a assemblage of different and varying colors, and the origin of course is the kaleidoscope, an optical instrument that could employ either reflection or transmission or both.

enter image description here (Source: https://kaleidoscopetherapy.co.uk)

  • 1
    This picture shows a number of people lying on the floor facing away from the kaleidoscopic spectacle; how bizarre! Commented Aug 15, 2018 at 17:18
  • @Timbo I don't see that image, but I'm guessing that they are looking at a projection on the ceiling. Commented Aug 16, 2018 at 1:08

The rippling patterns of light you get, for example, at the bottom of a swimming pool are called caustics:

In optics, a caustic or caustic network1 is the envelope of light rays reflected or refracted by a curved surface or object, or the projection of that envelope of rays on another surface.

  • 1
    More specifically, a caustic is where light is either reflected or refracted such that it is concentrated in an area that is brighter than the surroundings -- so it's the bright lines that are seen on the bottom of a swimming pool, but not the space between them (even though that space also is receiving reflected or refracted rays).
    – Jules
    Commented Aug 15, 2018 at 18:20
  • Be advised that this word could be contextually unsuitable. ‘Caustic’ also meaning to chemically burn, damage, corrode … Some insults are described as “caustic remarks” occasionally. Commented Aug 16, 2018 at 1:06

It seems that reflected is a word you've already ruled out—perhaps because you're passing light through another medium.

In which case, the light could be considered to be refracted or filtered.

All from Merriam-Webster.


transitive verb

1 a : to subject (something, such as a ray of light) to REFRACTON


1 : deflection from a straight path undergone by a light ray or energy wave in passing obliquely from one medium (such as air) into another (such as glass) in which its velocity is different



1 : to subject to the action of a filter


2 a : a device or material for suppressing or minimizing waves or oscillations of certain frequencies (as of electricity, light, or sound)
b : a transparent material (such as colored glass) that absorbs light of certain wavelengths or colors selectively and is used for modifying light that reaches a sensitized photographic material — called also color filter

Alternatively, if you're not talking about the technique but the end result that shows moving light patterns, then you are describing animated light:

1 a : endowed with life or the qualities of life : alive • animated creatures
b : full of movement and activity • an animated crowd
c : full of vigor and spirit : lively • an animated discussion 2 : having the appearance of something alive • an unusually animated piece of sculpture


One term for this is dappled (Cambridge). Sunlight passing through rustling leaves gives a dappled light.

  • I do love dappled and I'd thought of using that but not sure it's quite right for my context. I feel dappled has the feeling of slightly muted reflections or light and the materials I'm working with have quite strong colour reflections! Does that make sense??
    – Pip
    Commented Aug 15, 2018 at 1:38


intransitive verb

1 a : to shine faintly or unsteadily - The candles glimmered in the windows.

1 b : to give off a subdued unsteady reflection - Her white satin dress glimmered in the dusk.

2 : to appear indistinctly with a faintly luminous quality

It's not exactly dancing as you requested, but it implies unsteady - «marked by change or fluctuation; not uniform or even»


The word flitter might suit your project. It doesn't indicate light but the word itself has a nice rhythm, lightness and sense of movement.



shimmered; shimmering play \ˈshi-mə-riŋ, ˈshim-riŋ\ intransitive verb

1 : to shine with a soft tremulous or fitful light : glimmer 2 : to reflect a wavering sometimes distorted visual image

transitive verb : to cause to shimmer

Taken from: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/shimmer

  • Hi Oliver! Your answer seems like you copied it from a web dictionary. Please add a link to your source :)
    – Ian
    Commented Aug 15, 2018 at 10:57

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