Waxing and Waning

By Maeve Maddox

The most familiar use of the verbs wax and wane is in reference to the states of the moon.

To wax is to grow. To wane is to diminish.

The moon has four phases, also called quarters. During the first two quarters, the moon is said “to wax” as its light increases. During the third and fourth quarters, as its light decreases, the moon is said “to wane.”

The verbs wax and wane are often used to describe the growing and lessening of interest in a subject:

My interest in Shakespeare has always waxed and waned. 

Sadly, as my interest waxed, the interest of my sponsor appeared to wane.

My interest in cars began to wane in direct relationship to the run-up in prices.

In writing and speech, the verb wax may be followed by an adjective to describe the manner in which something is being said.

“To wax poetic” is to speak with enthusiasm and hyperbole on a favorite subject:

A grizzled New Orleans bartender waxing poetic on his favorite drink, the Mint Julip, as he makes his last one.

Apple brilliantly waxes poetic in new iPad Air ad
Prabal Gurung Waxed Poetic About His Militant Women

Similar in meaning is the expression “to wax lyrical”:

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger talks up Jackson Martinez transfer after waxing lyrical about the Porto forward

Like Spengler, they waxed lyrical about war and violence “as the superior form of human existence.” 

Feelings of angry disdain are expressed by the phrase “to wax indignant”:

General Grant waxed indignant at his father’s crass attempt to profit from his son’s military [success].

Do not weep; do not wax indignant. Understand.—Baruch Spinoza

House Speaker Robert DeLeo waxed indignant Wednesday, forcefully denying claims by federal prosecutors that he let fellow legislators fill jobs in the Probation Department in exchange for their votes for the speakership.

Wax is also used in reference to less passionate states of feeling. For example, one can wax silent or sentimental:

Agnes waxed silent, pleased most with “the joy of her own thoughts.” 

Anárion waxed silent as a couple strolled beside them, waiting until they had walked a safe distance away before asking, “Have you ever heard of Eregion?”

Justice Thomas waxed sentimental about the good old days when “teachers managed classrooms with an iron hand.”

Cobos waxed sentimental about being a “country boy” and announced that this was why he and his wife moved to the Upper Valley themselves.

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1 Response to “Waxing and Waning”

  • Tom Eisenman

    I’ve heard the word wane used as a noun to refer to a fault on a finished board. When lumber is planed to thickness on a power planer there can be a tendancy for the last few inches of the board to end up thinner than the rest of the piece. This narrow end is called “wane”. For example, “You need to adjust that machine you’re getting some wane.”

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