- The highest or topmost point that is reached; peak
- (Astronomy) The point on the celestial sphere located directly above an observer
- The topmost point in the sky attained by a celestial body such as the Sun or the Moon
Zenith usually refers to the utmost amount of a quantity or the uppermost location that someone or something reaches. For this reason, it is often used in describing the level of a person's achievement, where the zenith would be the highest level of accomplishment or the point at which a person was held in highest esteem. However, zenith can be used to describe any quantity that can be measured, numerically or otherwise, and so is frequently applied to a broad range of subjects including emotions, mathematical functions, and physical capacities such as position, speed and intensity (these latter two make it an especially useful concept for math and science). Specifically, astronomers describe the zenith of any celestial body, such as a star or planet, as the highest point in the sky it can attain; similarly, it refers to the point directly above the observer on the arc of the sky, located at an angle 90o to the horizon.
The term generally takes on the connotation of the quality it refers to - for example, the zenith of one,s achievement is positive, while the zenith of one's anger would obviously be negative. It should also be noted that when a quantity has a zenith, there is an implication there are points before and after at which that quantity was less.
Example: It wasn't until I was looking down from the rollercoaster's zenith that I realized just how afraid of heights I am.
Example: The famous "Flu Game," in which Michael Jordan fought through food-poisoning symptoms to score 38 points and lead the Chicago Bulls to victory was the zenith of his career.
The roots of zenith are thought to date back to the late 14th century. Like many other scientific concepts, the idea of a zenith seems to have originated with Arabic astronomers, who used the term samt ar-ras (translated as "the way over the head") to describe the arced paths traced in the sphere of the sky by celestial objects. The idea made its way into Europe when Medieval Latin scribes incorrectly recorded the word samt (the part of the Arabic phrase that means "way," "path," or "road,") as cenit or senit, evidently misreading the letter "m" as the sound "ni." Similar words appear in Old Spanish and Middle French (zenit and cenit respectively), and etymologists also note the resemblance between the Arabic phrase and the classical Latin term semita, which means "sidetrack" or "side path." Between all of these similar forms the stars aligned for zenith, and the modern version of the astronomical term appeared sometime in the early 1600s.
From Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter:
We impute it, therefore, solely to the disease in his own eye and heart, that the minister, looking upward to the zenith, beheld there the appearance of an immense letter,-the letter A,-marked out in lines of dull red light.
Here, Minister Dimmesdale looks directly upward - towards the "zenith" of the sky - where he sees a meteor that, to him, creates a fiery light in the shape of an ominous letter A. It seems the minister was feeling astronomically guilty! Get it?
- Rise like a phoenix to reach your zenith!
- At zenith everything else is beneath.
Bring out the linguist in you! What is your own interpretation of zenith. Did you use zenith in a game? Provide an example sentence or a literary quote.