Merriam-Webster Word of the Day: Halcyon

The Merriam-Webster Word of the Day is halcyon. Read on for what it means, how it’s used, and more.

What It Means

Halcyon is most often used to describe a happy and successful time in the past that is remembered as being better than today. It can also mean “calm, peaceful” or “prosperous, affluent.”

// She’s relieved to be retired, but looks back fondly on the halcyon years of her career.

HALCYON in Context

“I started the trip in Reno, a classic American city whose halcyon days may be behind it but which most will find engaging for both its faded glory and current fight to renew itself.” — William O’Connor, The Daily Beast, 26 Sept. 2022

Did You Know?

Halcyon has drifted along contentedly in English for centuries, but it hatched from a tumultuous story. According to Greek mythology, Alkyone, the daughter of the god of the winds, became so distraught over her husband Ceyx’s death at sea that she threw herself into the ocean to join him. The gods were moved by the couple’s love, and took pity on them by turning them into halcyon birds, a bird identified with the kingfisher. (Kingfishers are known for plunging into water after prey.) According to the legend, the birds built their nests on the sea, which so charmed Alkyone’s father that he created a period of unusual calm that lasted until the birds’ eggs hatched. Our word halcyon reflects the story in multiple ways. When halcyon was first used in English in the 14th century it was as a noun referring to the mythical bird, and later to actual kingfishers as well. Adjective use developed in the 16th century and now most often evokes those calm waters—the word typically describes an idyllic time in the past.

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