Word of the Day


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showing changing colours in different types of light

Origin and usage

The word iridescent comes from the Latin word ‘iris’ meaning ‘rainbow’. It first appeared in English around 1784.


Iridescent is a word that refers to the way colours can appear to change in different kinds of light. A soap bubble or a slick of oil on a puddle of water are both good examples of this iridescent effect.

Another classic example of iridescent colour can be seen on the feathers of a male peafowl. Science has shown that the shimmering colours of the bird’s feathers actually come from the molecular structure of the feathers themselves, not the specific colour of them.

Each peafowl feather is built like a palm tree leaf, with a rigid stem in the centre surrounded by rows and rows of tiny barbs. These barbs are further divided into rows of even smaller branches made of keratin and melanin, the same material found in human nails and skin.

The arrangement of these barbs determines the iridescent colour of a peafowl’s feathers. Depending on how closely the rods are arranged, the colour of the feathers can change from green to blue or brown to yellow in different light.

Peafowl aren’t the only creatures with an iridescent appearance. Butterflies, catfish, squid and some other birds also have a shimmering, iridescent look that makes them seem to change colour as they move.


“No bubble is so iridescent or floats longer than that blown by the successful teacher.”
(William Osler)

“Your acts of kindness are iridescent wings of divine love, which linger and continue to uplift others long after your sharing.”

View the full definition in the Macmillan Dictionary.

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