What Actually Is Glitter?

Each December, surrounded by wonderlands of white paper snowflakes, vivid red winterberries, and forests of green conifers reclaiming their ancestral territory from inside the nation’s residing rooms and hotel lobbies, children and adults delight to see the true harbinger of the vacations: aluminum metalized polyethylene terephthalate.

Aluminum metalized polyethylene terephthalate settles over store windows like dazzling frost. It flashes like scorching, molten gold across the nail plates of younger women. It sparkles like pure precision-minimize starlight on an ornament of a North American brown bear driving a automotive towing a camper van. Indeed, in Clement Clarke Moore’s seminal Christmas Eve poem, the eyes of Saint Nicholas himself are said to twinkle like aluminum metalized polyethylene terephthalate (I’m paraphrasing). In houses and malls and schools and synagogues and banks and hospitals and fire stations and hardware stores and breweries and automotive dealerships, and every sort of office — and outside these places, too — it shines. It glitters. It’s glitter.

What’s glitter? The simplest answer is one that can leave you slightly unsatisfied, however at the very least together with your confidence in comprehending fundamental physical properties intact. Glitter is made from glitter. Big glitter begets smaller glitter; smaller glitter gets everywhere, all glitter is unattainable to remove; now never ask this query again.

Ah, however when you, like an impertinent child looking for a logistical timetable of Santa Claus’ nocturnal intercontinental journey, demand a more detailed definition — a word of warning: The path to enlightenment is littered with trade secrets, vapors, aluminum ingots, C.I.A. levels of obfuscation, the invisible regions of the seen spectrum, a unit of measurement expressed as “10-6 m” and also New Jersey.

Humans, even people who don’t like glitter, like glitter. We’re drawn to shiny things in the identical wild manner our ancestors were overcome by a compulsion to forage for honey. A idea that has found favor amongst research psychologists (supported, partly, by a study that monitored infants’ enthusiasm for licking plates with shiny finishes) is that our attraction to sparkle is derived from an innate need to hunt out fresh water.

Glitter as a contactable product — or more correctly, an assemblage of contactable products (“glitter” is a mass noun; specifically, it’s a granular mixture, like “rice”) — is an invention so latest it’s barely defined. The Oxford English Dictionary principally issues itself with explaining glitter as an intangible type of sparkly light. Till the invention within the 20th century of the trendy craft substance, one may both observe something’s glitter (the glitter of glass), or hold something that glittered (like, say, ground up glass). Tinsel, which has existed for centuries, does not turn out to be glitter when cut into small pieces. It becomes “bits of tinsel.” The tiny, shiny, decorative particles of glitter we’re conversant in at this time are popularly believed to have originated on a farm in New Jersey within the Thirties, when a German immigrant invented a machine to cut scrap materials into extraordinarily small pieces. (Curiously, he didn’t start filing patents for machines that minimize foil into what he called “slivers” until 1961.) The particular occasions that led to the preliminary dispersal of glitter are nebulous; in true glitter fashion, all of a sudden, it was simply everywhere.

A December 1942 article in The Occasions — presumably the primary point out in this newspaper of the stuff — advised New York Metropolis residents that pitchers of evergreen boughs, placed of their home windows for the winter holidays, would supply “additional scintillation” if “sprinkled with dime-store ‘glitter’ or mica.” The pitchers were to switch Christmas candles, which the wartime Army had banned after sunset — together with neon signs in Occasions Sq. and the light from the Statue of Liberty’s torch — after figuring out that the nighttime glow threw offshore Allied vessels into silhouette, remodeling them into floating U-boat targets.

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