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[f. L. ill{u}min{a}t-, ppl. stem of ill{u}min{a}re to throw light on, light up, brighten, set in a clear light, make illustrious; in med.L. to baptize, to kindle, to paint or limn in colours; f. IL-1 + l{u}men light.]


1. a. trans. To light up, give light to.

1535 STEWART Cron. Scot. II. 604 Ane feild of birneist gold so bricht, That all the land illumnat with greit licht. a1545 BOORDE Pronost. Prol. in Introd. Knowl. (1870) Forewords 25 Lyke to the son..illumynatynge as well the inferyal planetes as the superyal planetes. 1667 MILTON P.L. VII. 350 God made two great lights..And set them in the Firmament of Heav'n To illuminate the Earth. 1718 LADY M. W. MONTAGU Let. to C'tess Bristol 10 Apr., The mosque [is] illuminated with a vast number of lamps. 1736 J. MCURE in Z. Boyd's Zion's Flowers (1855) App. 32/2 It is illuminated with 41 windows. 1872 YEATS Techn. Hist. Comm. 139 Most dwellings were illuminated by brands or torches of pinewood.

b. To give light to, or remove blindness from (the eyes), esp. fig. in religious sense.

1582 BENTLEY Mon. Matrones II. 209 Illuminate mine eies..O good Lord, that I sleepe not in darkenes. 1596 SPENSER Hymne Beautie 20 Doe thou vouchsafe with thy love-kindling light T' illuminate my dim and dulled eyne. 1638 SIR T. HERBERT Trav. (ed. 2) 74 He commands his sonnes be forfetted, but the poyson is more mercifull, leaving one eye a little illuminated. 1671 J. FLAVEL Fount. of Life x. 30 To sin with eyes clearly illuminated with the purest Light.

c. To direct a beam of any kind of radiation at (an object or region): used esp. of radio waves and microwaves in connection with radar and telecommunication.

1942 [implied in ILLUMINATED ppl. a. 1b]. 1947 CROWTHER & WHIDDINGTON Science at War I. 6 The power radiated proved ample to detect aircraft, flying at a height..sufficient to bring them within the space ‘illuminated’, at the range of 75 miles. 1948 POLLARD & STURTEVANT Microwaves & Radar Electronics iv. 126 The..antenna pattern from a 30-inch-diameter dish illuminated at 3·2 shown. 1957 R. WATSON-WATT Three Steps to Victory 470 Of the secondary radiations, excited by ‘illuminating’ the craft by ground installations emitting light, heat, sound or radio-waves, the first two are excluded by atmospheric absorption. 1973 Physics Bull. Mar. 149/1 A cold cathode discharge source..provided a beam of electrons which could illuminate an object such as an aperture or a wire grid.

2. To shed spiritual light upon; to enlighten spiritually; in quot. 1698, to bring the Gospel to. (In mod. use consciously figurative from 1.)

1538 STARKEY England II. i. 143 That hyt may plese yllumynate and lyght our hartys and myndys. 1548-9 (Mar.) Bk. Com. Prayer Litany, That it maye please thee to illuminate all Bishops, pastours, and ministers..with true knowledge and vnderstandyng of thy word. 1611 BIBLE Heb. x. 32 The former dayes, in which after yee were illuminated, ye indured a great fight of afflictions. a1656 HALES Sin agst. H. Ghost Tracts (1677) 13 Anciently, to be illuminated signified to be Baptized. 1698 FRYER Acc. E. India & P. 271 St. Basil illuminated the lower Armenia. 1719 DE FOE Crusoe II. vi, That He..would further illuminate them with a beam of his heavenly grace. 1875 MANNING Mission H. Ghost iv. 99 Faith therefore illuminates us to know that God is the end for which we were made.

3. To enlighten intellectually; to give knowledge or understanding to.

c1566 J. ALDAY tr. Boaystuau's Theat. World Iiijb, Excellent Doctors in this whose good condition and doctrine all Europe is at this daye illuminated. 1635 J. HAYWARD tr. Biondi's Banish'd Virg. 91 Disciplines illuminate the intellect. 1776 BOSWELL Let. to Johnson 20 Feb., You have illuminated my mind, and relieved me from imaginary shackles of conscientious obligation. Mod. Testimonial, I cannot imagine a teacher more gifted to lead, encourage, and illuminate a body of young students.

4. To throw light upon (a subject); to make luminous or clear; to elucidate. Also absol.

1586 J. FERNE Blaz. Gentrie To Gentlem. Inner Temple, Other autentique probacions did illuminate and give information. 1604 R. CAWDREY Table Alph., Illuminate, to inlighten, or make plaine. a1624 SWINBURNE Spousals (1686) 17 Which Reason might be illuminated with sundry Examples. a1748 WATTS (J.), My health is insufficient to amplify these remarks, and to illuminate the several pages with variety of examples. 1791 BOSWELL Johnson Feb. an. 1744, The various incidents [in Johnson's ‘Life of Savage’] are..illuminated throughout with so much philosophy. 1851 D. WILSON Preh. Ann. (1863) II. IV. iv. 267 All combine to illuminate the oscure period of..history.

5. To make resplendent or illustrious; to shed a lustre upon.

1601 SHAKES. Jul. C. I. iii. 110 What trash is Rome?..When it serues For the base matter, to illuminate So vile a thing as Cæsar. 1632 LITHGOW Trav. x. 497 The chiefest Gentry... All which in each degree..illuminat the soyle with grandure. 1830 D'ISRAELI Chas. I III. iv. 43 Hampden was to have illuminated with his genius this new order of government. 1850 ROBERTSON Serm. Ser. III. vii. 103 Self-sacrifice illuminated by love.

6. To decorate profusely with lights, as a sign of festivity or in honour of some person or some event.

1702 Lond. Gaz. No. 3842/1 The whole City being in an extraordinary manner illuminated. 1717 tr. Frezier's Voy. 204 The Steeples of the Church were adorn'd with Ensigns..and illuminated with Lanthorns. 1863 Illustr. Lond. News 28 Mar. 358/2 The hotels..and places of business were illuminated with..transparencies and variegated lamps.

7. a. To set alight, light, kindle. rare.

1658 WILLSFORD Secrets Nat. 66 [It] will extinguish a torch that is lighted, and being immediately put in again, it will illuminate it. 1849 THACKERAY Pendennis xxxviii, The butler..illuminated the antique Gothic chandelier.

b. intr. To take fire, to light up; of a town, etc.: to be decorated with lights as a sign of festivity or celebration. Also, to become excited (see also quot. 1926).

1706 DEFOE Review 2 Mar. 108 The other Gentleman and his Man coming, and holding a real Candle up to Decide it, Affirm'd the Doctors Candle was Lighted; the Grave Gentleman went on, with an Ay, I think it does begin to Illuminate. 1801 Med. Jrnl. V. 583 The wood..when it begins to illuminate, is mostly deprived of its resinous particles. 1843 Punch IV. 256 If Stockport and Paisley do not.. illuminate when they shall hear the glad tidings, then is the spirit of manufacture dead to gratitude. 1871 ‘MARK TWAIN’ Sk. New & Old (1875) 176 For eight-and-forty hours no soul in all the barony but did dance and sing, carouse and illuminate, to celebrate the great event. 1926 WOOD & GODDARD Dict. Amer. Slang 24 Illuminated, lit, drunk. 1927 E. H. C. MOBERLY BELL Life & Lett. C. F. Moberly Bell 96 The people illuminate, and go mad with frenzy for Gordon, and curse the Mahdi. 1972 Jrnl. Social Psychol. LXXXVII. 90 Subjects were asked to estimate the probability that an alleged peer..would shock them when a light illuminated.

8. To decorate (an initial letter, word, or text, in a manuscript) with gold, silver, and brilliant colours, or with elaborate tracery and miniature designs, executed in colours; to adorn (a manuscript, inscription, text, etc.) with such decorative letters and miniatures. {dag}Formerly, also, to colour a map. (In this sense it has taken the place of ENLUMINE.)

1706 PHILLIPS, To illuminate, draw in Gold and Colours the beginning Letters and other Ornaments, as it is done in many old Manuscript Books; to lay Colours upon Maps and Prints. 1710 HEARNE Collect. (O.H.S.) III. 47 Some of the Letters are illuminated. 1774 WARTON Hist. Eng. Poetry Dissert. ii. (1775) I. 42 He was so fond of letters, that he did not disdain to bind and illuminate books. 1864 Linnet's Trial II. III. viii. 88 That shall be the text which I choose, to illuminate and hang up in my bedroom.

Hence lluminating ppl. a.; illuminatingly adv., in an illuminating way.

1632 LITHGOW Trav. I. 31 The splendor of the illuminating Image. 1643 MILTON Divorce II. iii, The illuminating guidance of Gods Law. 1780 COWPER Table Talk 712 To shed illuminating rays On every scene and subject it surveys. 1854 TOMLINSON Arago's Astron. 127 Each point of the illuminating surface will project..a light which will diminish in the inverse proportion of the squares of the distances. 1891 G. MEREDITH One of our Conq. III. xii. 249 It was the more illuminatingly damnatory for being recognized as the sentiment which no father should feel. 1965 Language XLI. 216 The adjective structures illuminatingly discussed by Lees. 1972 Nature 28 Jan. 204/2 Another examination scheme has also proved illuminatingly effective.