Wax and Wane: Definition, Meaning, and Origin

Last Updated on
November 1, 2023

The expression "wax and wane" refers to the cyclical increase and decrease in intensity, size, or extent, much like the moon's phases. The word "wax" means to grow or increase, while "wane" means to decrease or diminish. It can be applied in various contexts, from one's emotions and interest levels to economic trends and the popularity of trends.

In short:

"Wax and wane" refers to the increase and decrease or the rise and fall in strength, intensity, or numbers.

What Does "Wax and Wane" Mean?

The phrase "wax and wane" is often used to describe a cyclical increase and decrease in the intensity or quantity of a particular phenomenon, condition, or attribute. Derived from astronomical terminology, "wax" refers to the growing phase of the moon, while "wane" denotes its shrinking phase. When applied metaphorically, the phrase captures the ebb and flow or the rise and fall of various aspects of life, such as popularity, fortune, or emotions.

Let's dive into its core meanings and usage:

  • At its core, "wax and wane" describes something that grows larger or stronger (waxes) and then diminishes or gets weaker (wanes).
  • It can be used in various contexts, from talking about emotions to describing trends or numbers.
  • Related expressions include "ebb and flow" and "rise and fall."

While it's mainly used to discuss cycles or repetitive patterns, it's versatile enough to be used in a variety of scenarios.

Where Does "Wax and Wane" Come From?

The phrase “wax and wane” refers to the phases of the moon and dates back to the 14th century. The term “wax” is derived from the Old English “weaxan,” which means to grow or increase, and is related to the German word “wachsen.” The term “wane” comes from the Old English “wanian,” meaning to lessen. The phrase has been used to describe anything that undergoes periodic cycles of growth and decline, similar to the moon’s visible size in the sky.

Historical Example

"...His Kingdom stretch from shore to shore, till moon shall wax and wane no more" - A Selection from Tate and Brady's Version of the Psalms

10 Examples of "Wax and Wane" in Sentences

Here are some examples showcasing how this idiom can be used:

  • The popularity of the TV show waxed and waned. As a result, some characters might get axed from the series.
  • She noticed that her energy would wax and wane throughout the day.
  • Market trends often wax and wane, making it hard to predict the future.
  • As they spoke, his attention seemed to wax and wane.
  • His commitment would always wax and wane. That's why he occasionally slips back into old habits.
  • His interest in the subject would wax and wane depending on the topic.
  • As the company's fortunes waxed and waned, we found ourselves repeatedly in the red.
  • The sounds of the forest seemed to wax and wane with the breeze.
  • Public opinion about the policy seemed to wax and wane over the years.
  • The king's power would wax and wane based on his decisions and actions.

Examples of "Wax and Wane" in Pop Culture

This idiom has appeared in various forms of media and entertainment:

  • The phenomenon of celebrities' fame waxing and waning is a recurring theme in pop culture commentary and analysis.
  • A horror fiction book by Saoirse Ni Chiaragain is entitled Wax and Wane.
  • Wax & Wane: A Gathering of Witch Tales is a supernatural fiction by Lawrence Dagstine.

Synonyms: Other/Different Ways to Say "Wax and Wane"

10 Frequently Asked Questions About "Wax and Wane"

  • What does "wax and wane" literally mean?

It refers to the periodic increase and decrease, especially when talking about the moon's phases.

  • Where did the phrase originate?

It has its roots in Old English, particularly relating to the moon's phases.

  • Can "wax and wane" be used for emotions?

Yes, it can describe fluctuating emotions, among other things.

  • Is "wax and wane" still commonly used?

Yes, it's a poetic way to describe cyclical changes and is still used in literature and everyday language.

  • Are there modern synonyms for this idiom?

Yes, words like "fluctuate" and "ebb and flow" can be used similarly.

  • Has "wax and wane" appeared in famous songs?

Yes, artists like The Beatles have touched upon the concept in their lyrics.

  • Can the phrase describe financial situations?

Indeed, it can describe the ups and downs of economic or business scenarios.

  • Is there a visual representation of "wax and wane"?

The cyclical pattern of the moon is a direct visual representation.

  • Are there languages other than English that have a similar phrase?

Many languages have idioms that describe cyclical changes, though the exact wording may differ.

  • Is the phrase specific to a particular culture or region?

While its origins are in Old English, the concept is universal and is understood in various cultures.

Final Thoughts About "Wax and Wane"

"Wax and wane" is derived from the cyclical growth and diminishment of the moon's visible shape.  The phrase has been adopted in broader contexts to describe anything that undergoes regular cycles of increase and decrease. The idiom beautifully captures the cyclical nature of many things in life.

Here's a quick wrap-up:

  • It's a reminder of the inevitable ebb and flow of circumstances.
  • Despite its old origins, it's still widely understood and used today.
  • Its versatility allows it to be used in various contexts, from describing nature to personal emotions.

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