March 26, 2014

Case File #014.03.26: APOGEE

Apogee dates back to the late sixteenth century, when it first appeared in an edition of English explorer John Davis's The Seaman's Secrets. While some etymologists believe Davis simply borrowed the French noun apogĂ©e, others think he skipped back over the French and drew directly from the Latin adjective apogeum, which meant “moving away from the land” and was itself derived from the Greek apogeios (sometimes transliterated apogaios), meaning “far from the Earth.” Davis used apogee to specifically mean “the point at which the moon is farthest from the Earth,” but by circa 1600, astronomers were already using it more generally to mean “the point at which an orbiting object is farthest from the planet or satellite it orbits” and navigators were using it to mean simply “apex or summit.” It wasn't until the late seventeenth century, however, that the noun took on the figurative sense of “the climax or culmination of something, especially as attained over a long period of time,” as in, for example, The product was the apogee of twenty years of research.

©2014 Michael R. Gates

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