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The meaning and origin of the expression: Pitch dark

Pitch dark

What's the meaning of the phrase 'Pitch dark'?

Pitch dark means intensely dark, usually in reference to a moonless, starless night.

What's the origin of the phrase 'Pitch dark'?

'Pitch dark', or 'pitch darkness', is an expression used to indicate an absolute absence of light. Of course, this condition, is rarely achieved in nature and the phrase is used in practise to mean 'extremely or intensely dark'.

The phrase 'Pitch dark' - meaning and origin.
The expression 'pitch dark' derived
as a reference to things which were
as dark (or black) as pitch (that is, tar).

Pitch is the sticky, resinous, black or dark brown substance that is obtained as a residue from the distillation of wood tar or turpentine. It used to be commonly used as a waterproofing material on sailing ships.

'Pitch dark' derives from the earlier expression 'pitch black', which in turn derives as a variant of 'as black as pitch'.

'Pitch black' is first recorded in John Marston's satire The Scourge of Villanie, 1598:

Hath drawn false lights from pitch-black loueries.
[A louvre was a domed roof turret.]

The first known use of 'pitch-dark' is in Daniel Defoe's narrative account Storm, 1704, which records the events of the hurricane that hit London in 1703.

Great mischief was done in the Night, which was so pitch-dark that of above 80 ships that then rid in the Humber... very few escaped some loss or other.

Gary Martin - the author of the website.

By Gary Martin

Gary Martin is a writer and researcher on the origins of phrases and the creator of the Phrase Finder website. Over the past 26 years more than 700 million of his pages have been downloaded by readers. He is one of the most popular and trusted sources of information on phrases and idioms.

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