In a word: epiphany

The Baltimore Sun

Each week The Sun's John McIntyre presents a relatively obscure but evocative word with which you may not be familiar, another brick to add to the wall of your vocabulary. This week's word:


Friday, January 6, was the Feast of the Epiphany, in which Christianity celebrates the revealing of Jesus Christ to the gentiles. Epiphanytide immediately follows the twelve days of Christmas and precedes the forty days of Lent.

Among those gentiles were the magi, who Matthew’s Gospel says brought gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh to the baby Jesus. Matthew neither numbers nor names the magi; their identification as Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar is a tradition dating from the sixth century.

Epiphany (pronounced ee-PIF-uh-nee) comes from the Greek verb epiphainein, “to show forth,” “to manifest.” Apart from the Christian context, an epiphany can be any appearance or manifestation of a god or supernatural being.

In a secular, literary sense popularized by James Joyce, an epiphany is a moment of sudden intuitive understanding or flash of insight, or a scene or experience that occasions such a moment (Webster’s New World).

Example: Alexis Ohanian, co-founder of Reddit, in, March 2013: “My junior year, I went to an LSAT-prep course. I flipped over my test and thought, You bastards. I walked out and went to Waffle House. That's where I had what I call The Waffle House Epiphany: I didn't want to be a lawyer. I wanted to make a dent in the universe."

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