September 9, 2013

Case File #013.09.09: UMBRAGE

The word umbrage has a shady past. Literally. It came to English via the Middle French ombrage, which meant “shade or shadow” and was itself derived from the Latin adjective umbraticus, meaning “shadowy” or “of the shade.” When English speakers borrowed the French term in the early fifteenth century, they changed the spelling to umbrage yet kept the original shadowy meaning. The noun's usage became more figurative than literal during the sixteenth century, however, and its meaning shifted first to something like “indistinctness” or “haziness” and then later to “doubt” and “suspicion.” But seventeenth-century English speakers must have been a little piqued by all those former shady and suspicious meanings of umbrage, for it was they who gave the noun its current primary sense of “resentment, insult, or offense.”

©2013 Michael R. Gates

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