Definitions

from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • n. See Saint Elmo's fire.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • n. An electrical discharge accompanied by a corona of ionization in the surrounding atmosphere

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • n. St. Elmo's fire. See under saint.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • n. A ball of light, supposed to be of an electrical nature, sometimes observed in dark tempestuous nights about the decks and rigging of a ship, but particularly at the mastheads and yard-arms; St. Elmo's light or fire. Also called corpse-light.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • n. an electrical discharge accompanied by ionization of surrounding atmosphere

Etymologies

Portuguese and obsolete Spanish corpo santo, both from Latin corpus sānctum, holy body : corpus, body; see kwrep- in Indo-European roots + sānctus, holy, past participle of sancīre, to consecrate; see sak- in Indo-European roots.
(American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)
Latin corpus ("body") + sanctum ("holy") (Wiktionary)

Examples

  • The next year, Samir hit the word corposant, which refers to an electrical phenomenon.

    CNN Transcript May 30, 2007

  • The next year, Samir hit the word corposant which refers to an electrical phenomenon and he shocked the crowd by finishing 27th.

    CNN Transcript May 31, 2007

  • The mariners believed them to be the souls of the departed, whence they are also called corposant (corpo santo).

    The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume 11: New Mexico-Philip

  • When we got down we found all hands looking aloft, and there, directly over where we had been standing, upon the main top-gallant mast-head, was a ball of light, which the sailors call a corposant

    Two Years Before the Mast

  • It was a bronze statue, Greek or Roman, of a torchbearer whose branch flared with sudden cold corposant fire.

    Operation Luna

  • The salt air smothers the coastal lights, but the mast, the shipped oars, ignite with the corposant, and all through the water a green incandescence, and often at night the coastline is dark, obscured by the luminous reef by the Phoenix of Habbakuk, low in the canceling west, and the wind and the water are borrowed and inward as light.

    The Reign of Istar

  • Gaggii kept chanting until he was surrounded by a half circle of bobbing, corposant shapes, each yellow or red-orange, each an individually expressive nimbus.

    Cyber Way

  • I looked, and saw a corposant, as it is called at sea, -- a St. Elmo's fire, -- burning at the end of the crossjack-yard.

    Stories by English Authors: the Sea

  • We were off the yard in good season, for it is held a fatal sign to have the pale light of the corposant thrown upon one’s face.

    Chapter XXXIV. Narrow Escapes-The Equator-Tropical Squalls-A Thunder Storm

  • When we got down we found all hands looking aloft, and there, directly over where we had been standing, upon the main top-gallant-mast-head, was a ball of light, which the sailors name a corposant (corpus sancti), and which the mate had called out to us to look at.

    Chapter XXXIV. Narrow Escapes-The Equator-Tropical Squalls-A Thunder Storm

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  • "Saturday poked them with his fingers, and as he did so, a line or two shone brightly in the quick fire. 'The corposants burnt blue on every mast,' he read."
    Poet's Pub by Eric Linklater, p 129 of the Orkney Edition hardcover

    November 24, 2011

  • "Sailors used to call this phenomenon St. Elmo's fire, or the corposants (holy bodies), and meteorologists have since renamed it corona or point discharge. Very likely, the electrical field at the surface was enhanced by lightning aloft—'thunder snow' is another sign of a violently intense cold front."
    —David Laskin, The Children's Blizzard (New York: HarperCollins, 2004), 176

    November 12, 2008

  • "... a name given to the volatile meteor, or ignis fatuus, often beheld in a dark tempestuous night, about the decks or rigging of a ship, but particularly at the extremities, as the mast-heads, and yardarms, and is most frequent in heavy rain, accompanied with lightning. This appearance, which is nothing more than the electric fluid, passing silently from the clouds to the water, or the contrary, by means of the humidity on the masts and rigging; was, in the dark ages of superstition, esteemed by some a good omen, and by others an evil one; but modern philosophy has so happily explored its cause, that none but the most ignorant are now intimidated by it...."
    Falconer's New Universal Dictionary of the Marine (1816), 107

    October 13, 2008

  • See also corpusant.

    July 31, 2008

  • A phantom sailing ship with all its topmasts blazing with corposants was observed sailing in an easterly direction.

    - Malcolm Lowry, October Ferry to Gabriola

    July 30, 2008