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[zee-nith or, esp. British, zen-ith] /ˈzi nɪθ or, esp. British, ˈzɛn ɪθ/
the point on the celestial sphere vertically above a given position or observer.
Compare nadir.
a highest point or state; culmination.
Origin of zenith
1350-1400; Middle English cenith < Medieval Latin < Old Spanish zenit, scribal error for zemt < Arabic samt road, incorrectly read as senit by medieval scribes (compare Arabic samt ar-rās road above (over) one's head, the opposite of nadir)
Can be confused
nadir, zenith.
2. apex, summit.
1, 2. nadir. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the Web for zenith
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • He would have had me believe him shooting to his zenith, victorious at last.

  • This brought him to the place which was destined to develop his greatness to its zenith.

    Life Immovable Kostes Palamas
  • Paul gazed vacantly from the zenith to the nadir, and from west to east, when suddenly his eyes fell on the Abbot of Antinoe.

    Thais Anatole France
  • Besides, at that precise moment I was far from being “in my zenith.”

    The Quadroon Mayne Reid
  • Close by us was the Grand Stand—tier on tier of dim thrones rising up toward the zenith.

British Dictionary definitions for zenith


/ˈzɛnɪθ; US ˈziːnɪθ/
(astronomy) the point on the celestial sphere vertically above an observer
the highest point; peak; acme: the zenith of someone's achievements
Compare nadir
Derived Forms
zenithal, adjective
Word Origin
C17: from French cenith, from Medieval Latin, from Old Spanish zenit, based on Arabic samt, as in samt arrās path over one's head, from samt way, path + al the + rās head
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for zenith

late 14c., from Old French cenith (Modern French zénith), from Medieval Latin cenit, senit, bungled scribal transliterations of Arabic samt "road, path," abbreviation of samt ar-ras, literally "the way over the head." Letter -m- misread as -ni-.

The Medieval Latin word could as well be influenced by the rough agreement of the Arabic term with classical Latin semita "sidetrack, side path" (notion of "thing going off to the side"), from se- "apart" + *mi-ta-, suffixed zero-grade form of PIE root *mei- "to change" (see mutable).

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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zenith in Science
The point on the celestial sphere that is directly above the observer (90 degrees above the celestial horizon). Compare nadir.
The American Heritage® Science Dictionary
Copyright © 2002. Published by Houghton Mifflin. All rights reserved.
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