Daily Archives: March 3, 2021

thester

It is thester out, ever more thesterly; thesterness descends from the thester dome and all thesters until today is thesterday. And thester way I like it.

Do I seem like thester-crazy kind? Oh, I am undimmed by dimness. When the sun is hidden, the countless little points of light come out, and it is so personally illuminating and downright photogenic; corners are contrasts, and life passes alternately in pools of vivid colour and expanses of wan thester.

Thester is not a word we use much anymore; it has slipped into itself over the centuries. It’s not that we truly need it—we have other words for the same function: dark, darkness, darken, to start with. But dark starts with a stab on the tip of the tongue and curls through the hollow mouth to finish with a hard stop at the back, while thester starts soft, stops in the middle with a hiss and tap, and then fades away, like a night cat finding your foot and retreating. Thester and dark may, strictly speaking, denote the same thing, but they’re painted by different artists.

You are most likely to recognize this word if you are familiar with Old English and Middle English literature. It shows up, for instance, in the Old English form (and inflection, in this case þystrum) in Beowulf:

Ða se ellengæst earfoðlice 
þrage geþolode, se þe in þystrum bad, 
þæt he dogora gehwam dream gehyrde 
hludne in healle; þær wæs hearpan sweg, 
swutol sang scopes.

Here, let’s put that loosely into Canadian:

Then the tough-guy trouble-getter
waited wearily, watching in thester,
as day after day they partied hearty
and loud in their hall—harps and harmony,
bards and ballads.

It’s kind of fitting that the word is most associated with the years around 1000, since that’s the time that’s often referred to as the Dark Ages. We should realize, of course, that they were not dwelling incessantly in thester; the sun rose as it does now, and people had fine lives, or as fine as one can have without full indoor plumbing. It’s just that certain snooty Renaissance men, noting a lack of their own illumination about the times, instead of realizing that there was plenty that they weren’t seeing, concluded that there wasn’t much there.

But we know perfectly well that when you walk down the thesterly street or through a park in thesterness, if you step where you can’t see, there’s still something you’ll be stepping into and on. And you might discover more than you expected. Another word, perhaps. Or even another world.