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A comment below the question Does the current “fainting” of Betelgeuse show any spectral trends that differ from it's normal variability? suggests that "dimming" would be a better term, but I have a hunch that the use of the term "fainting" in this context is more than just a choice of synonyms for decreasing in brightness.

A quick check in google scholar for "variable star fainting" returns many results that seem to use fainting in deliberate way.

Question: When we say a variable star is "fainting" does it mean more or different than "dimming" or "fading"?

"bonus points" for any history on the term; was it first used by someone speaking proper English rather than that horrible derivative they speak in the US? ;-)


If we don't get an authoritative answer here in Astronomy SE in a few days, I'll think about moving this to English SE or History of Science and Math SE.

In the mean time it would be great if people could refrain from:

  1. suggesting it would be "better asked" elsewhere
  2. posting speculative or low-quality answers, which will make it impossible for me to then move the question by myself

Thanks!

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    $\begingroup$ Merriam-Webster lists "to become weak" as an archaic meaning of the verb. Etymology.com states that this meaning dates back to ca. 1300, while the more usual modern meaning is from ca. 1400. Not sure why this appears to be the preferred term in an astronomical context though. $\endgroup$
    – user24157
    Dec 31 '19 at 14:27
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    $\begingroup$ I think right here on Astronomy is the best place to ask this question, even if it doesn't get a quick answer. The most likely reaction on English Language & Usage (on which I'm relatively active) would be knee-jerk closure for lack of research, and a recommendation to refer it to the SE site most appropriate for the specialist usage of the word (i.e. here on Astronomy!). If it lingers here without an answer, why not offer a bounty? $\endgroup$ Jan 7 '20 at 22:49
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    $\begingroup$ @ChappoSaysSEDuddedMonica Thanks, yes I've had mostly good but mixed results in English SE with space word questions; launch cadence, dumb mass, Ephemerides, Nasa vs NASA, space jellyfish, dog-leg, very historic. $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Jan 8 '20 at 0:31
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    $\begingroup$ I also have some experience with bounties in Space and Astronomy $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Jan 8 '20 at 0:32
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    $\begingroup$ yay! Betelgeuse has its own tag now $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Aug 19 '20 at 7:39
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Saying a star is "fainting" is simply an error; the correct terminology is "dimming" or "fading". (I suspect it's a plausible mistake for non-native speakers if they know about the adjective "faint", which is common in astronomy -- why wouldn't "to faint" mean "to become fainter"? But it doesn't.)

You say

A quick check in google scholar for "variable star fainting" returns many results that seem to use fainting in deliberate way.

but you don't say how you did the search, how you evaluated the results, and whether you checked for alternatives. Google searches are problematic because their numbers are unreliable estimates and because Google will normally return anything with one or more of the search terms (and will return hits for synonyms as well). It's true that if I just search for "variable star fainting" (without quote marks), I get "about 5,860 results". But if I replace "fainting" with "fading", I get "about 43,400 results", which already suggests "fading" is preferred over "fainting". If I put quotation marks around the phrase "variable star" and the word "fainting" (telling Google I want pages with both of those exact phrases), I get "about 25 results" with "fainting" (about six of which aren't actually from astronomy) and "about 2,440 results" with "fading" -- so the latter is about two orders of magnitude more common.

A better approach is to use the Astrophysics Data System, which is more comprehensive and allows separate searches of abstracts and full texts. Searches of abstracts for "fainting" produces 17 results (two of which are actually about the physiogical phenomenon for astronauts); a search for "fading" produces 3,191 results. ("Dimming" gets 1,545 results.) A full-text searches for the presence of both "variable star" and "fading" gets 1,898 results; substituting "fainting" returns a grand total of 8 results.

Finally, I'll note that the follow-on Astronomers Telegram (#13365) that you mentioned in your original question puts "fainting" in scare quotes, suggesting an acknowledgment that the original usage in the first telegram (#13341) was an error.

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  • $\begingroup$ "...but you don't say how you did the search, how you evaluated the results, and whether you checked for alternatives" of course I don't; I've just done enough to justify asking the question. Now on to the question that's been asked: "When we say a variable star is "fainting" does it mean more or different than 'dimming' or 'fading'?" Is the answer "No, people don't use it that often, but when they do, yes that's what they mean"? or something else? $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Aug 15 at 12:10
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    $\begingroup$ They mean exactly the same thing as "fading" or "dimming". It's not some special technical term with a unique meaning; it's just an error. $\endgroup$ Aug 15 at 12:12
  • $\begingroup$ Excellent, thanks! $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Aug 15 at 12:15

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