What does ‘interstices’ mean?

Reading time: Less than 1 minute

Increase your vocabulary and you’ll make your writing much more precise. That’s why I provide a word of the week. Today’s word: interstices…

Some authors use unusual words multiple times in a single book. No reader is surprised to see words like “it” or “that” or “was” a multitude of times. But try one “limerance,” “ogival,” or “procrustean,” and the reader is likely to remember it and feel slightly off-key — if not offended — if you use it a second time.

In her otherwise fabulous novel, A Book of American Martyrs, author Joyce Carol Oates uses interstices more than once. It jumped out at me because I wasn’t sure what the word meant. Here is how she used it the first time:

Her work, so long executed in the interstices of her husband’s and her children’s schedule, called to her, like something that is dying of thirst.

The word looked Latinate to me, but that was all I could say. My dictionary, however, was able to tell me it meant “an intervening space, especially a very small one.” But it was the sample sentence that made the meaning utterly clear: “sunshine filtered through the interstices of the arching trees.” (See photo above.)

The word comes from the Latin interstitium meaning “interval,” literally “space between,” from inter meaning “between” and stare meaning “to stand.”

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