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Posts Tagged ‘throwing shade’

Hello,

Hinterland Festival

This week I’m exploring the word umbrage, with thanks to John McKenna whose writing workshop I attended last weekend at the Hinterland Festival. The annual festival is held in Kells, Ireland and features over 60 events over four days for readers, writers, and younger visitors. This year I was proud to be chosen as the winner of their inaugural short fiction contest and closed their Lit Crawl event with a reading of my story “The Purple Tree” in the library.

 

 

Anyhow, back to umbrage. John mentioned it was his favourite word at the moment as he’d only recently discovered its meaning related to being in the shadow of trees.

In the shadow of trees

Naturally I had to investigate. The first surprise is that “to take umbrage” dates back to the early 1600s. I always thought that had to be a stiff-upper-lipped Victorian expression, but apparently people have been suspicious of slights against them for much longer.

Umbra, meaning shade or shadow, is a Latin word, with possible Sanskrit roots. From there it edged into Middle French as ombrage (which gives us the currently popular ombré colour effect) and shaded into English by the early 1400s. The excellent Phrase Finder web site confirms that umbrage sometimes referred to the foliage of trees causing shade. Originally taking umbrage meant to sit under shady trees in the 1540s but a hundred years later the meaning had twisted, perhaps because of the association of darkness with negativity.

They also pointed out something which I can’t believe I missed. The distasteful character of Dolores Umbridge in the Harry Potter books is named for two types of darkness – umbrage and dolour which means sorrow and distress.

The idea of shade as a negative thing is still active in modern slang. Throwing shade, or simply shading someone means you’re insulting them.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

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