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daeg mael:

one of the Anglo-Saxon tides, it may also have been the word for a dial in the early Anglo-Saxon period.


An Icelandic term (‘daymarks’) referring to landmarks in the countryside which, when viewed from a fixed location, indicated the direction of the Sun at fixed times of the day.


A single day in a chosen calendar system. Note that the agreed international date system (and British Standard 4795) specify “year, month, day” – for example 1951 August 10. Common UK usage is the reverse of this – beware the illogical American usage of month, day, year, especially in all-numeric forms.

Date Line

See International Date Line.

dawn: the first light of day, taken as the onset of morning twilight.


The period for one rotation of the Earth. Solar ~ : measured between successive transits of the sun: Mean solar ~ :measured between successive transits of the fictitious mean sun. Equal to 24 hours, it is the usual meaning of ~ unless it is further qualified. Sidereal ~ : measured between successive transits of the First point of Aries (or, in everyday language, any ‘fixed’ star). A sidereal day is 23 hours 56 minutes 4.1seconds. Beware the possible confusion between day and daytime.

daybreak (or break of day): an old term for first light, usually taken as the onset of astronomical twilight.


That period of a day between sunrise and sunset.

Daylight Saving Time

See time (types of).


(of a wall) {sometimes called the declining angle or the deviation, to avoid confusion with the sun’s declination}: [d, DEC] the angle, measured in a horizontal plane, that a wall’s perpendicular makes with due south (i.e. a wall facing S has d = 0°). Walls declining westward have positive declinations, those eastward, negative. Beware – this is not a universal convention and some authors define the angle with respect to the nearest cardinal point of the compass.


To locate other celestial bodies. See Figure 1 and Equations.

declination lines:

lines on a dial showing the sun’s declination on a particular date. They are read by observing the shadow of a nodus.


[ º or deg] an angle equal to 1/360 of a complete circle.


Falling from the zenith. Note: astrologers have a different definition.

diagonal scale

A device for interpolating between scale divisions, pre-dating the vernier scale. It is constructed by drawing diagonals between individual divisions across a wide band, with a series of equi-spaced arcs parallel to the main scale crossing them. It is read by noting the position of the fiducial line with one of these arcs. Most usually found on astronomical instruments, a similar design was used by Sir Christopher Wren for indicating the minutes on his famous vertical dial on All Souls’ College, Oxford.


A Middle English word, apparently deriving from the Latin ‘dies’ though the medieval Latin ‘dialis’, used for what is now called a sundial. It later became used for many types of indicators, hence the necessity (from 1599) for the qualifying ‘sun’ prefix. The word ~ in modern English has now become common again as a shortened version of sundial. Hence dialling {dialing}, the art and science of designing and constructing dials; diallist {dialist}, one who designs or makes dials.

Dial types:

Ahaz (Dial of Ahaz)

: supposed refraction dial, from the Bible story (Kings 20 v8-11) which may allude to a dial showing time running backwards.

altitude ~

Any dial which uses the sun’s altitude, rather than its azimuth, for indicating the time. Usually does not need to be aligned N-S. Examples are ring dials, flag dials, and shepherds’ dials. Altitude dials were also often incorporated in quadrants and folding rules.

analemmatic ~

. Most usually found set in the ground in parks, where the observer acts as the gnomon. Note that some of these dials show an analemma drawn about the gnomon positioning line. This is a method of indicating the EoT for the appropriate date, but it must be remembered that the gnomon is not positioned on the analemma. The analemmatic dial may be regarded as a projection of the universal equatorial ring dial. Analemmatic dials were once common paired with a horizontal ~ in a self-orienting portable compendium.

analemmic ~

This term has sometimes been used to describe dials which have an analemma-shaped gnomon, or analemmas on the hour lines, enabling them to read mean time. Note, the dials have no direct link to analemmatic ones.

Anglo-Saxon ~

{sometimes just Saxon ~}: a sundial from the Anglo-Saxon period (c 650 – 1050 AD); designed to show unequal hours, or the basic tides, with a horizontal gnomon. Similar to the mass dials which superseded it, a Saxon ~ shows much higher levels of craftsmanship and is often finely decorated. Also, it is invariably engraved in a separate (circular or rectangular) stone, not into a pre-existing wall. Saxon dials are often taken to be the precursors to the later scientific dials. In the early part of the period the semicircle was divided by five lines into four segments. During the latter part of the period it was subdivided into eight or twelve segments and the dial sometimes carried an inscription in Old English. Throughout the period the principal lines had a cross bar near the perimeter giving the appearance of Latin crosses. See Appendix II for the basic time periods shown on the dial.


An ancient form of dial in which a partial-sphere is hollowed into a stone, and a ray of sunlight enters the partial-sphere through a south-facing pinhole through the stone.


And the other the local meridian. Usually, other great circles are added representing the Prime meridian and the ecliptic plane, sometimes together with small circles for the tropics and arctic circles. These add artistically, but detract from its clarity as a dial. The gnomon sometimes carries a nodus at the centre of the sphere; this may be used for indicating the date.

astroid ~

A ~ which uses the sun’s declination, altitude and azimuth to give the hour angle. It is latitude-independent, and is named after the geometric shape which forms its gnomon.

auxiliary ~:

A small equatorial dial used as a mechanical aid to constructing dials on other planes (particularly vertical decliners) by co-mounting on a common gnomon and projecting the hour lines. Often used with a trigon.

azimuthal ~

(or azimuth ~): any dial which uses the sun’s azimuth for indicating the time. It usually needs to be aligned N-S, and has a vertical style (if it has no dependence on altitude).

Berossos ~

Another term for a hemispherium, named after its inventor Berossus Chaldaeus, a Babylonian astronomer who flourished on the Greek island of Cos around 270 B.C.


~: invented in 1922 by Hugo Michnik in its horizontal form, although it can be on any plane. The time is indicated by the intersection on the dial plate, of the shadows of two wires (or other lines in space) stretched above and parallel to it. The wires often run E-W and N-S, with their (different) heights above the plane being a function of the location of the dial. It may have equiangular hour markings, and hence can be delineated to show many kinds of hours.

Bloud ~

A portable, magnetic azimuth ~ made mostly in Dieppe by makers such as Charles Bloud.

book ~

{open book ~}: a modification of the polar ~, with the dial plate consisting of two planes set in a vee, with their intersection line lying parallel to the Earth’s axis. A polar gnomon can be placed bisecting the angle of the two planes. Alternatively it may be arranged so that the outer edge of each plane acts as the gnomon for the other. The term book ~ can also be applied to diptych dials which are designed to look like a book when closed.

Butterfield ~

A pocket sundial by, or in the style of, Michael Butterfield (Paris, 17th century). Typically it consists of an octagonal silver horizontal dial with a gnomon of adjustable angle, often with a bird’s head pointer, with several rings of hour lines for cities of different latitudes. A magnetic compass is fitted in the same case.

cannon ~

See noon gun.

Capuchin ~

A latitude-specific card dial, related to the Regiomontanus dial. So-called because the outline of the hour-lines is said to resemble a hooded Capuchin monk.


~: a class of portable dials built on a single plane, e.g. a card which is suspended in the vertical plane. They usually have a sun sighting device along one edge, and a cord with a bead which hangs vertically below a movable suspension point.

ceiling ~

{also known as a mirror ~ or reflected ~}: a dial marked on a ceiling where the time and date are indicated by a beam of sunlight reflected from a small horizontal mirror placed on a windowsill.

chalice ~

(or cup, bowl etc.): a form of refraction ~ where the hourlines are drawn on the inside of a drinking vessel. Early examples, often in precious metals are rare and valuable.

Chinese ~

: a wide range of dials have been used in China, from the vertical gnomon of the mythical astronomer Xi, through equiangular ~ with sun-pointers and 100-segment time scales from the 1st – 2nd centuries BC, equatorial dials for equal hours in the Ming dynasty (1368 to 1664), to conventional horizontal dials in the 19th century.

compass ~

A portable horizontal dial with an accompanying compass to allow it to be correctly oriented. The compass is often below the pierced dial plate, and the gnomon is hinged for packing. Beware: the term compass dial is often used to mean a magnetic dial.


~: a (hypothetical) horizontal ~ used as an aid to designing a vertical declining and/or reclining dial. Its gnomon and hour lines are calculated not for the site of the proposed (real) dial, but for the location where the Earth’s surface is parallel to the dial plate of the proposed dial. For a simple direct south dial, the complementary dial would be located at the co-latitude.


~: a term used to describe several entirely different types of dial.(a) a class of dials where the dial plate is an inverted, truncated cone, giving dials similar to a scaphe dial or a hemicyclium, or (b) a class of modern dials which use a cone lying on its side as the gnomon. Many varieties, including sidereal, exist.

cross ~

A dial in the form of a cross, usually of stone, with the “front” surface of the cross parallel to the equatorial plane, and the top pointing south. The side surfaces of the cross can each form a dial plane, with its gnomon being a corresponding edge of the cross itself. Usually found as churchyard memorials. Rare. Portable cross dials have the long arm parallel to the polar axis and the short arm E-W.

cube ~

A (set of) dials on the surfaces of a cube. There may be up to 6 dials, but more often 5 e.g. direct N, S, E, and W, together with a horizontal on the top surface. Alternatively, it is possible to set the cube so that its top surface is parallel to the equatorial plane, i.e. the base makes an angle equal to the co-latitude with the horizontal. Both portable (usually adjustable) and monumental versions are known.

cycloid (polar) ~

A variation of the standard polar dial in which the gnomon has a cycloid shape, with the result that the hour lines are equally spaced.

cylinder ~

A portable, altitude dial in which hour lines for different dates are delineated around the surface of a cylinder, which is allowed to hang or stand vertically. A horizontal gnomon projects radially from the top of the cylinder, and is adjusted to the appropriate date around its periphery. Sometimes two gnomon are supplied; a long one for winter and a short one for summer. The dial is held with the gnomon facing the Sun so that the shadow falls vertically. Latitude specific. This was the chilindrum of Chaucer’s monk.

declining ~

A vertical dial which does not face any of the cardinal points of the compass. The sub-style will be displaced from the noon line, although the latter will still lie vertically below the dial centre.

diametral ~

One of the equatorial projection dials, first described by Samuel Foster of Gresham College in the 17th century, it is a horizontal dial with a moveable style and hour points which lie along a straight line lying E-W.

diffraction ~

A dial invented in 1999 by M. Catamo & C. Lucarini. It has no gnomon, but the dial plate consists of a circular diffraction pattern, which forms a bright, multicoloured diametrical line pointing at the Sun when viewed perpendicularly to the centre of the dial plate. Horizontal, altitude and equinoctial versions are possible. The dial plate is usually made from a CD (compact disc), hence “CD dial“.

digital ~

An ingenious 20th century dial. The “gnomon” consists of a rectangular sandwich of shadow masks set parallel to the polar axis. This gnomon casts a shadow in which digits representing the time are sunlit. Patented, and requires great precision in manufacture.

diptych ~

Dial in which a vertical and horizontal dial are hinged together, and a common cord gnomon running between them also ensures that they open to a right angle. Latitude specific. This term is, confusingly, sometimes also used to describe a monumental open book dial.

direct ~

A vertical dial which directly faces one of the cardinal points of the compass e.g. direct S.

double horizontal ~

A horizontal dial with (usually) a combined polar pointing gnomon and a vertical one showing the time/date on a stereographic projection of the sky onto the horizontal plate. Capable of self orientating, although normally fixed in position. Usually attributed to William Oughtred in the early 17th century, early hand-engraved versions are very fine.

Egyptian ~

A range of sundials from ancient Egypt (portable and fixed) exists, the earliest being from the time of Tuthmosis III (1479-1425 BC). The portable devices appear as a long, thin 3-D letter “L”, laid with the long shaft horizontal along the sun’s azimuth, with the upturned foot casting a shadow onto the shaft. It is very similar to the merkhet but has a dedicated hour scale

equant ~

A modified horizontal ~ in which the hour-lines are replaced by hour points. These points are arranged round a geometric curve chosen so that the points are equally spaced, allowing the use of a vernier scale and more accurate interpolation of times. Not related to Ptolemy’s equant point.

equatorial ~

A dial in which the dial plate is set parallel to the equatorial plane and the polar-pointing gnomon is perpendicular to it. The dial has hour lines equally spaced at 15º intervals around the gnomon, and hence the dial plate may be rotated to account for EoT, longitude and BST/DST corrections. Sunlight falls on the underside of the dial plate from the autumnal equinox until the vernal equinox. For this period, the gnomon must project below the dial plate, which is delineated on both sides. An alternative form replaces the dial plate by a narrow hour ring (or half-ring) allowing the scale, inscribed on its inner circumference, to be read throughout the year. With this form, special analemma-shaped gnomons can be used to show mean time. Note: some authorities insist that this dial should be called an equinoctial ~.

equiangular ~

A term used for dial types where the hour points are placed at equal angles (15º) around a circle (or part of). If the dial plane is not parallel to the equatorial plane, the mounting of the gnomon, (which does not need to be polar) must be movable to accommodate this.

equatorial projection ~

: a class of dials obtained by projecting a universal equatorial ring dial onto any plane. Members of the class include analemmatic, diametral, Foster-Lambert and Parent dials.

equinoctial ~

Name for an equatorial ~, preferred by some authors.

flag ~

An altitude ~, formed by “unwrapping” the scale of a shepherd’s ~ into a flat plane which can be shaped like a flag or pennant and is positioned perpendicular to the sun.


~: a form of equatorial projection dial, with the projection arranged to produce a circular ring of equiangular hour points. A good example is the large reclining dial (now back at Herstmonceux Castle after a period at Cambridge) designed in 1975 by Gordon Taylor for the Royal Greenwich Observatory.

geographical ~

A dial in which the dial plate shows a map of the world, with curved hour lines allowing the time at any location to be indicated.

globe ~

. where the shadow of a movable point on the surface is made to fall on the centre of the globe.

Graeco-Roman ~

: a general class of dial from about the 3rd century BC (Greek) to the 4th century AD (Roman). Made of stone, they include the hemispherium, the hemicyclium, and some conical dials.

great decliner

Usually indicates a declining dial which nearly, but not quite, faces E or W. The centre of the dial falls off the dial plate and, as a consequence, it does not show a noon line.

hâfir dial

An Islamic dial with unequal hours, vertical gnomon and equiangular date scale of 12 segments.

halazûn dial

An Islamic dial with unequal hours, vertical gnomon and a date scale of 6 segments (each representing two signs of the zodiac).

hat ~

: an altitude dial comprising a circular disk mounted concentrically on top of a vertical cylinder. The dial is read by the minimum vertical length of the disk’s shadow on the outside of the cylinder.


A precision sundial which incorporates some means to allow it to read civil (or mean) time. This is usually achieved by incorporating an EoT cam (as in the Pilkington and Gibbs heliochronometers), or by projecting a spot of light onto an analemma. Note: some authors use this term to describe any precision sundial.


An ancient dial with the dial surface formed by a hemisphere hollowed into a horizontal (or occasionally vertical) stone face. The gnomon is a vertical spike (length equal to the radius of the sphere) set in the bottom of the hemisphere. It is essentially a horizontal altitude dial, with a shaped dial plate which prevents sunrise and sunset being at infinite distances.


Similar to the hemispherium, but with the south-facing part of the hemisphere cut away, and with the gnomon now projecting horizontally from the N edge.

horizontal ~

The common or garden sundial with a horizontal dial plate and polar-pointing gnomon. Latitude specific.

inclining ~

Usually applied to portable dials in which a horizontal dial, designed for a high latitude, typically 60º
, may be inclined by raising its southern edge (in the N hemisphere) so that it may be used at locations with lower latitudes. The opposite arrangement is also sometimes found. The term is also sometimes confusingly used for near-vertical dials where the top leans away from the observer.

Islamic ~

A ~ with unequal hours and showing the Islamic prayer times.


~: see Foster-Lambert ~.

Little Ship of Venice

. A portable dial in the shape of a Venetian ship with a central mast. Based on the Regiomontanus dial, the few early examples are valuable.

magnetic ~

{or magnetic compass ~} : a small portable ~ in which a complete horizontal ~ is mounted on a compass card, and hence is self-orienting. In principle, the magnetic variation of the place and date where it will be used can be accommodated by rotating the dial from the magnetic N-S line of the compass. Beware: this type of dial is sometimes described as just a compass dial.

magnetic azimuth ~

A portable ~, usually in diptych form. There is no string gnomon but instead the lid is lined up to fall exactly on the base, the time being read from the compass needle on a chapter ring. The chapter ring position is moved in a N-S direction from a calendar volvelle on the under side.

mass ~

. Delineated, probably empirically, to show some form of unequal hours, there is a huge variety of design types. Some are event markers rather than true sundials.

mechanical universal equinoctial ~

(sometimes minute ~): a ~ that uses gearing to show accurate time on a clock face, i.e. a solar clock.

mirror ~

A ~ having no gnomon, but using a small, appropriately angled mirror to reflect a small spot of sunlight onto the dial face. The dial may be on a vertical wall facing N or within a building. See also ceiling dial or reflecting dial (separate definitions).

monofilar ~

A ~ in which time is marked by the point where the shadow of a thread ( or other thin gnomon) held between the dial face and the Sun intersects a set of date lines.

moon ~

A sundial calibrated in some way so that it can tell the time by moonlight. No change to the basic dial is required, but a correction factor for the time is required which accounts for the age or phase of the Moon. Never very accurate because of the complex nature of the Moon’s orbit, they generally require a nearly full Moon to be able to be read clearly. Purpose-built moon dials have either spiral hour lines or a table of moon phases (as in the famous Queens’ College, Cambridge, dial).

multiple ~

Simply more than one dial physically incorporated into the same dial structure.

multiple gnomon ~

A ~ in which there is a separate shadow casting element (gnomon) for each hour line. The elements can be points, lines or planes.

navicula de Venitiis

See Dial Types ( Little Ship of Venice)

noon (or meridian) dial or line

A dial which has only one hour line, for noon. It has a nodus rather than a full gnomon. This may be in the form of a small ball on the end of a shaft or, more usually, an aperture in a plate or window opening into a building. Very long, accurately-levelled meridian lines (running N-S) built into cathedrals were intended for the accurate determination of the equinoxes, solstices and other solar parameters. A noon dial (as opposed to noon line) is usually taken to mean a complete noon analemma, possibly including dates.

noon gun

A small cannon mounted such that focussed sunlight from an appropriately angled lens falls on the touch-hole and fires the gun at noon. A novelty rather than an accurate time indicator.

noon mark

A stone, or line marked on a stone, set to receive the noon shadow of a building or other feature. The term is, however, often used interchangeably with a noon ~.

Nuremberg ~:

a loose collective term used for the diptych dials made around Nuremberg, Germany, during the 16th and 17th centuries. The majority were made of ivory, featured a compass bowl in the lower leaf and had a string gnomon.

Oughtred ~

Another name for a double horizontal dial.

Parent ~

A form of analemmatic ~, with the dial plane parallel to the Earth’s axis so that the ellipse of hour points becomes a segment. First designed by Parent in 1701.


~: a form of ~ attributed to the Greeks around 100 BC. In appearance, the dial resembles a butterfly or double-headed axe, and was delineated to show unequal hours.

pillar ~

See cylinder ~. Sometimes also confusingly used to describe monumental dials mounted on tall pillars.

poke ~

An old term for a pocket or portable dial.

polar ~

A ~ in which the dial plate is set along the E-W direction and reclines so that it is parallel to the polar axis. The standard polar-pointing gnomon is thus also parallel to the dial plate. Simple to construct, but the hour lines disappear to infinity when the Sun is in the plane of the dial. For a south-facing polar dial, the theoretical limits at the summer solstice are 6am to 6pm.

polarised light ~

A gnomon-less dial which detects the orientation of the polarised skylight. Its polariser/analyser system is best arranged to view a region of the sky near the N celestial pole (S in the southern hemisphere), allowing the hour lines to follow a standard 15º
per hour scale. Although not particularly accurate, it has the advantage that it does not require direct sunlight to work as long as there is clear sky towards the N celestial pole. Thought to have been invented by Sir Charles Wheatstone in 1848.

polyhedron ~

A multiple dial in the form of a solid polyhedron, with a separate dial on each face. Usually each dial is some form of decliner/recliner, but may include scaphe and polar dials as well. Particularly common as the monumental Scottish stone lectern and obelisk dials.

portable ~

Simply a dial meant to be moved from place to place, either as a pocket dial or simply being transportable. In most forms, some means of orienting the dial is included, and they are often either universal or capable of being read at a number of fixed latitudes.


~: a term occasionally used to describe a multiple dial with two or three dial faces set on the sides of a triangular prism.

proclining ~

A term sometimes used to describe a dial which is approximately upright but which leans forward towards the observer. A dial which leans forward by 10º will have an inclination of +100º. They are sometimes also called inclining dials, although that term is best reserved for dials derived from a horizontal ~.

reclining ~

Strictly, an approximately vertical dial which leans backwards away from the observer. However, often used as a catch-all term for any non-vertical dial. The angle is defined from the horizontal towards the observer, so a dial which leans backwards by 10º
from the vertical has an inclination +80º.

reflecting ~

These dials have no gnomon, but reflect sunlight by means of a semi-cylindrical mirror, set with the axis of the mirror parallel to the polar axis. The mirror reflects the light to form a caustic curve amongst the hour points. For the special case of the mirror having a cycloid shape, the hour points are equally spaced. Note that the term reflecting dial may also be used for ceiling dials.

refraction ~

Dials which use a clear liquid in a solid cup to compress the hour lines. Sometimes drawn on the inside of a drinking cup – a chalice dial – (see Dial of Ahaz) or on the bottom of a fountain basin or swimming pool. A second form uses a cylindrical lens to focus sunlight onto a curved dial plate.

Regiomontanus ~

A universal form of card dial, usually with the suspension point of the cord movable in two dimensions in the card plane. It is the basis for many other variants of dial.

ring ~ :

A portable, altitude dial in the form of a ring, with a small aperture in its circumference. The ring is suspended in a vertical place such that the aperture faces the sun. The time is then indicated on a time/date scale on the inside of the dial. The suspension point may be adjustable on the circumference to allow for latitude changes. Not very accurate, due to their usually small size and the fact that a very compressed date scale is needed to prevent the ring becoming too wide. These dials were known by Vitruvius in the first century BC. Beware: this term is also sometimes loosely used to described a universal equinoctial ring dial.


~: see Anglo-Saxon ~.

scaphe ~

. The name comes from the Greek word for boat, and the dial itself is thought to have developed from the hemispherium. Normally with a vertical gnomon.

scientific ~

A term usually taken to mean a dial which is designed to show equal hours, or at least in which the effect of latitude been mathematically accounted for. Thus any dial with a polar-pointing gnomon is scientific, but, for example a mass dial is not. Mostly, they date from the 16th century onwards.

scratch ~

See mass dials.

self-orienting ~

Any dial which, when correctly adjusted for he latitude and/or date, can be used to find the direction of south. Sometimes also called “self-southing”.

shadow plane ~

: a class of dial in which the gnomon is movable and is set by the observer so that it, and its shadow, lie in the sun’s hour plane. The gnomon may be a plane, line or point. The dial plate can, if required, be any surface. A globe dial with a movable vane is an example of a shadow plane ~.

shepherd’s ~

See cylinder dial for the usual meaning. A second type of shepherd’s dial is a set of marks cut in the turf, so that the shepherd’s crook could be used as a vertical gnomon – see Shakespeare’s Henry VI part 3, act 2, scene 5.

sidereal ~

A ~ designed to show sidereal time by means of introducing a variable offset to the time shown by the solar shadow on an equiangular dial. The dials are rare, with no known public dial in the UK(?)

solar clock (or solar chronometer)

An instrument in which a sighting of the sun, through a movable telescope or open sights, is made to display the time on a clock face by a set of gears. A famous example by Sir Charles Wheatstone is in the Science Museum. Note: this term is often used as a synonym for heliochronometer, but is best reserved for the definition given here.

spherical ~

See globe dial.

spoon ~

A rare form of scaphe ~ delineated in the bowl of a spoon.

stained glass ~

A (generally vertical) dial in which the dial face is of stained glass, and is viewed from the back, i.e. through the glass from inside the building. The gnomon remains on the outside of the building, and frequently causes cracking of the glass if supported directly from it. Typically, they were incorporated into church windows in the 17th century, although most are now in museums and there are some notable modern examples.

standing ring ~

A form of universal equinoctial ring dial mounted on a stand, usually including a compass.

Star of David ~

A monumental dial similar in concept to the cross dial, except that the six-pointed star with 60º angles gives opportunities for numerous dials.

sun clock

See solar chronometer, dial (types of).

tidal ~

A dial delineated to give the times of the marine tides. Based on some form of equiangular dial (e.g. an equatorial dial). It bears the compass points in a circle with the names of various ports written against them. The ‘establishment’ of a port is given as a compass point and, together with the hour markers, indicate the interval of time between the passage of the Moon over the meridian of the port and its high tide. Not to be confused with dials showing the Anglo-Saxon tides.

universal ~

Any portable dial with a means of allowing it to work at, or be adjusted for, any latitude. Note: sometimes the range of usage is limited to one hemisphere. The term is also sometimes applied, with qualifications, to dials which operate over a more limited range of latitudes, e.g. dials with, say, 30º- 60ºN scales.

universal equatorial ring ~ (or – equinoctial – )

A portable dial which looks similar to a folding version of an armillary dial, but with a movable suspension point to provide latitude adjustment. A stylised version of the hour ring and gnomon forms the BSS logo. In some versions, an aperture gnomon mounted on the central axis is used, the position of the aperture being adjusted to suit the sun’s declination. This form is self-orienting. Large well-made versions are accurate and valuable.

vertical ~

Any dial in which the dial plate is vertical.

window ~

: (or projecting ~) a ~ in which the hour lines are marked on a window in such a way that their shadows fall across a single reading point inside the room. The lines, as drawn on the window, form an inverted, mirror-imaged vertical dial. This form is related to stained glass and mirror (or ceiling) ~.

- End of Dial types -

dialling scales: ruler-like (or rule-like) scales designed to help in the geometrical layout of dial. Their non-linear scales are effectively analogue computers for solving dialling equations. Standard scales, following George Serle’s original version of 1657, and themselves developed from Samuel Foster’s 1638 work, have separate scales for : hours, latitude (prime) and latitude (meridian).dial plane:the plane in which the dial plate, and the hour indicators, lie.dial plate (or ~ face): the physical plate on which the hour lines and furniture lie. It (usually) supports the gnomon.diffraction grating: a plate with a set of closely spaced slits (usually parallel and equi-distant) which disperses incoming light into its constituent wavelengths (i.e. colours). The surface of a CD acts as a circular reflection diffraction grating.


{dioptera}: a form of alidade, used as the index of a volvelle (and also sometimes of a quadrant or an astrolabe), rotating against an angle scale.


Below the true or astronomical horizon. It is given by:

dip (arc-minutes) = 1.811 x v height (metres).


With the date. See Appendix IX for values. It is measured with an inclinometer.


From the Greek words for “double image viewer”. Devised by James Bloxham and patented by Edward Dent in 1843. It is an instrument for observing the transit of the Sun to an accuracy of a few seconds. Essentially, it comprises a hollow equilateral prism, with the front, semi-reflecting face facing south and parallel to the polar axis. At noon, the reflection of the Sun from this surface exactly coincides with a second image doubly reflected from the other two faces.


Literally, two leaves or pages. See dial types, diptych .


Daily, or occupying one day. Can also mean of the daytime (as opposed to nocturnal: of the nighttime).

domifying circles

On a horizontal dial, these lines all lie parallel to the noon line. See Appendix V.

Dominical cycle: a letter-cycle originating in the Roman period, when each day of the year was allocated

the letters A,B,C,D,E,F and G in a repeating sequence. In a given year, every weekday (e.g. Monday) has
the same letter, and the cycle repeats with the 28-year Julian leapyear cycle. The Dominical letter (for
Sundays) is often found on portable dials, and is used with the Golden Number to find Easter.


The evening twilight period.

Pages: A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
Introduction    Dial types    Hours (types of)    Time (types of)    Illustration
Symbols    Equations    Biographies    Chronology    Sources    Appendices