I had no idea that this word, usually employed with the verb “take,” and meaning “to show displeasure,” has cast a long and complex shadow. Shadows grow lengthy this time of year, so let’s step into them for a moment.
Several obsolete meanings shown in The OED’s entry give us a sense of how, over centuries, definitions change. The word itself stretches its long shadow back through Old French to Latin, with a first-recorded use in English from the early 1400s.
At first, our word signified a shadow cast by a tree’s foliage or an object, even by a King or other grandee. Later it came to mean a feeling of suspicion; the modern “the shadow of a doubt” and “cast doubt upon” preserve some of that earlier umbrage.
I like this very old word, but The OED provides no examples later than 1900. Currently it enjoys a “usage frequency” of 4 out of 8 in The OED editors’ estimation. I bet the frequency will drop, as this week’s word falls ever more into the umbrage of time. Time leaves us all in the shade, eventually. Let’s not take umbrage about that ineluctable fact.
Nominate a word students need to learn by e-mailing me (jessid -at- richmond -dot- edu) or leaving a comment below.
Image of a well-house roof and its umbrage by the author.