A beacon is a guiding signal, usually a light in a high up position, designed to attract attention or warn people. They were originally large fires used to signal people over long distances in the days before modern communications existed. A tower or hill used for that purpose is also called a beacon and, generally, a lighthouse can be called a beacon as well. Figuratively, a person that inspires or guides others can also be called a beacon. As a verb, to beacon means ‘to provide with beacons.’
- Seeing the beacon lit to the east, the villagers rushed to light their own beacon and warn the next village to the west.
- A series of beacons was built along the coast.
- The ship saw the light from the beacon.
- A good teacher can serve as a beacon to his or her students.
- The whole coastline has been beaconed.
Words often used with beacon
radio beacon: a nautical radar device at a fixed location that, upon receiving a radar pulse, transmits a reply pulse that enables the original sender to determine his or her position relative to the fixed location.
In the UK, a Belisha beacon is a flashing light in an orange globe mounted on a post, indicating a pedestrian crossing (crosswalk in US English) on a road.
Beacon dates back to the early 10th century. The Old English bēacen (pronounced like beacon is now) meant ‘sign or signal,’ though it was also often used figuratively to refer to lighthouses themselves. The spelling changed, in Middle English, to beken, and then again to the form we are familiar with in Modern English. It comes from the West Germanic noun baukna (beacon, signal), and is related to the Old Frisian baken the Old Saxon bokan and Old High German bouhhan, all of which have the same meaning. Some linguists think that it comes from the Latin bucina (‘signal horn’ or ‘crooked horn or trumpet’), but others think it more likely originated in the Proto-Indo-European root bhew-, a variant of bha-, meaning ‘to gleam or shine.’ The figurative sense dates back to around the year 1600. The verb comes from the noun, though the date it started to be used instead of beckon (as this verb’s meaning altered) is uncertain.