arctic

Definitions

General English

General Science

  • noun
    (written as Arctic)
    the area of the Earth’s surface around the North Pole, north of the Arctic Circle

Military

  • adjective
    (written as Arctic)
    relating to conditions of extreme cold
  • noun
    (written as Arctic)
    an area of ice and snow around the North Pole, the region north of the Arctic Circle.

Slang

  • adjective bad. An intensified form of the vogue sense of cold.
  • adjective excellent, fashionable. An intensified form of cool or chilled.

Origin & History of “arctic”

Etymologically, the Arctic is the region of the ‘bear’. Nothing to do with polar bears, though. The characteristic constellations of the northern hemisphere are the ‘Little Bear’ (Latin Ursa Minor), which contains the northern celestial pole, and the plough, otherwise known as the ‘Great Bear’ (Latin Ursa Major). The perception that they resemble a bear (Greek arktos) goes back to ancient times, and the Greeks used the derived adjective arktikos, literally ‘relating to bears’, to denote ‘northern’. By the time this reached English, via Latin ar(c)ticus and Old French artique, it was being applied specifically to the northern polar regions. (The original English spelling, reflecting the French form, was artic. The more etymologically ‘correct’ arctic came in in the 17th century, but uncertain spellers are still apt to regress to artic.) Antarctic (14th c.) for the corresponding southern polar region likewise comes ultimately from Greek (antarktikos, with the prefix anti- ‘opposite’).

Arcturus (14th c.), the name of a very bright star in the constellation Boötes, means literally ‘bear watcher’ or ‘bear guardian’ (Greek Arktouros), a reference to the fact that the tail of the great Bear points towards it.
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