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Diagram showing the relationship between the zenith, the nadir, and different types of horizon. Note that the zenith is opposite the nadir.

From Middle English cenyth, from Medieval Latin cenit, a transliteration of Arabic سَمْت(samt, direction, path) which is in itself a weak abbreviation of سَمْت اَلرَّأْس(samt ar-raʾs, direction of the head).



zenith (plural zeniths)

  1. (astronomy) The point in the sky vertically above a given position or observer; the point in the celestial sphere opposite the nadir.
    Antonyms: nadir, perigee
    • 1638 Herbert, Sir Thomas Some years travels into divers parts of Asia and Afrique
      The 12 day wee had the wind high and large ſo that in two dayes ſaile we made the Sunne our Zenith or verticall point []
    • 1671–1693: Rev. Thomas Jolly, private notebook; printed in: 1895, Henry Fishwick (editor), The Note Book of the Rev. Thomas Jolly: A.D. 1671–1693. Extracts from the Church Books of Altham and Wymondhouses, 1649–1725. And an Account of the Jolly Family of Standish, Gorton, and Altham, page 44
      In this 10th m. appeared that prodigious Comett the tayl whereof was like the blade of a double edged sword, and reached almost from the horizon to the zenith.
    • 1938, Xavier Herbert, Capricornia, New York: D. Appleton-Century, 1943, Chapter XI, p. 180, [1]
      In the east a pillar of cloud reared from horizon to zenith, with a kind of arm outstretched like a threatening colossus.
  2. (astronomy) The highest point in the sky reached by a celestial body.
    • 1719- Daniel Defoe, Robinson Crusoe
      [] in the middle of the day, when the sun was in the zenith, the violence of the heat was too great to stir out []
    • 1920, Peter B. Kyne, The Understanding Heart, Chapter II:
      As far to the west as Monica could see, her world was a sea of fog, [] . Above it arched a cerulean sky; as the sun climbed to the zenith, [] , the fog gradually took on a bluish tinge.
  3. (by extension) Highest point or state; peak.
    Synonyms: acme, apogee, culmination, pinnacle
    • Shakespeare
      I find my zenith doth depend upon / A most auspicious star.
    • Macaulay
      It was during those civil troubles [] this aspiring family reached the zenith.
    • 1900, William Beckford, The History of the Caliph Vathek[2], page 173:
      "There for a while I enjoyed myself in the zenith of glory and pleasure."

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