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"Taking Umbrage" : Why Everybody Was Wrong About It

Take Umbrage

The last few days poor ol’ Google was under siege when there was surge in people searching for the meaning of the word "umbrage". Most people are happy with the modern day application of the word. But some remain puzzled. Why not just say "take offense"? 

If you’re the kind who likes to dig a little deeper, you will no doubt have found out that the word "umbrage" was taken from old English, which was adopted from old French, which in turn was borrowed from Latin. In Latin, the word was "umbra". Now, "umbra" basically means "shade" or “shelter”.

However, the word "umbrella" was also taken from the same Latin word "umbra". That was why some people conjured up in their minds a mental picture of a person holding up an umbrella when he says he's “taking umbrage”: for the root meaning of the word simply meant that: taking shelter. But as we all know, language is not static, and word meanings morph over time.

In the early 17th century, one William Drummond of Hawthornden wrote this line in his poem: “About her flow’d a gowne as pure as light; Deare amber lockes gave umbrage to her face.’ Here, the word umbrage is used in its original sense: her locks of hair gave “shade” to her face.

Later, William Shakespeare transmuted the noun to mean “a shadowy suspicion of something”. He wrote in Hamlet, His semblable is his mirror, and who else would trace him, his umbrage, nothing more."

Overtime, it took on the meaning that we are familiar with today: “offense”. Judging by the number of people googling for the meaning of the word, one can only surmise that this word is not that commonly used today. Perhaps umbrage was taking umbrage (in the original sense) from all the inquisitive minds.

So, why would a person not simply say “take offense”? Instead, why use the more ambiguous “take umbrage”? Was it because it was higher sounding? Or was it employed in the original sense, to get “shade” or “shelter” – as in getting some cover from the heat? Who knows?

In any case, when you’re out in the sun, don’t simply take any umbrage. Take a pair of Sunday Shades. Put them on. They’re better for your eyes and they definitely make you look better. Sunday Shades do not bounce, are lightweight, are fun, and are definitely easy on your pocket. Check them out here.