On Lightning


From the Redhouse Büyük Elsözlüğü:

  • yıldırak prov. 1. glittering, sparkly. 2. thunderbolt; lightning.
  • yıldırgan 1. daunting; intimidating; (someone, something) who/which daunts, intimidates, or cows. 2. (someone, something) who/which inspires terror.
  • yıldırım thunderbolt, flash of lightning, streak of lightning, stroke of lightning; lightning. ––ları üstüne çekmek to bring a lot of criticism upon oneself, cause a number of people to level their criticism at oneself. ––la vurulmuşa dönmek to be thunderstruck.
  • yıldırmak /ı/ to daunt; to intimidate; to cow. 2. to terrorize.
  • yılmak /dan/ to be daunted by; to be indimated by.

Once, while searching through the Rare Works collection of the Atatürk Library on a fall afternoon, I chanced upon the report of an American visitor to Constantinople in the fall of 1884. The man, likely a missionary from Minnesota, described being caught in a storm blown out of the north. He asked for the word for lightning, the Greek family hosting him told him the Turkish word, which he promptly confused with 'yılan'. Knowing as he did a handful of Turkish words, particularly those that might help him elucidate the Gospels, it seemed apt to him that lightning and snake might share the same word in Turkish, as though the Turk in some moment of inspiration had been seized by the likeness of that serpent and the darting, then hammered, flashes of light across the sky.


From A Turkish and English Lexicon shewing in English the signification of the Turkish terms, by Sir James Redhouse:
  • yıldırım a thunderbolt; a stroke of the electric fluid.
  • yıldırayıjı what constantly glitters or sparkles.
  • yıldırmak to make quail, to daunt, cow 2. to swim

In the letters of James Redhouse, one finds a humorous anecdote about being caught in the rain. Sir Redhouse tells us he is sitting after dinner with a young man of Erzerum, who sits up to tell him a story of being caught unawares by a group of bandits and scoundrels one stormy night in an alley bordering the river. The young man tells his story with a proud voice, Sir Redhouse has only just begun to compile his lexicon. The story he leaves us tells us that later that night, on reviewing his notes, he could not remember whether the man had made his enemies quail in fright or whether he had swam away. For lack of a better solution, he listed both options in the entry for yıldırmak.


And we, we sit before flat windows that catch the lights above us. Our sills and casements glow against the darkness, in which the boulevards and many-pillared towers of the opposite shore dream of darkness, of elecrtic fluid about them in which they might constantly glitter. A city that even lit dreams of being unlit, of being able to watch in terror the night fill with a sudden light that, like snakes or fluid or even words, flickers in the grass, over stones, on our tongues.


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