Taking umbrage from the shadows

Taking it is what most of us do with umbrage. Some more unpleasant people also give a bit of umbrage as well (although they should not be thought of as generous). It is better to take umbrage rather than to give it. Taking umbrage is to take offence at something.

But taking umbrage was not always such an unpleasant experience. Taking umbrage initially meant to sit under a tree, or more literally taking the shade (when you take the shade under an umbrella you are taking, what from the Italian, means little shade).

The beautiful aria written by Handel in 1738, Ombra ma fui (Never was a shade), from the opera Serse and also known as Handel’s Largo, is a song in praise of the shade of a plane tree (it was used in the BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice). (It is a favourite of my family).

Umbrage comes into English from French ombrage meaning shade or shadow and originally from Latin umbraticus meaning of or pertaining to shade.

Umbra is a scientific and sometimes literary word for the deep shadow cast by an object (and also a ghost or phantom). It is used in astronomy to describe the shadow regions of eclipses where the full shadow region is called the umbra and the partially shaded region the penumbra. Sombre (from the French sombre) is another relative, meaning a dark mood (it comes from Latin subumbrare meaning under shadow).

So taking umbrage meaning to take offence comes from the figurative sense of having your mind shadowed with dark thoughts.