Word of The Day for Monday, September 20, 2010


ad·um·brate   / adəm brāt/   /ə dəm-/    v
1.      to foreshadow vaguely : intimate
2.      to suggest, disclose, or outline partially <adumbrate a plan>
3.      overshadow, obscure

adumbrated past participle;   adumbrated past tense;   adumbrating present participle;   adumbrates 3rd person singular present
adumbration noun; adumbrative adjective; adumbratively adverb

  • Report or represent in outline
    • James Madison adumbrated the necessity that the Senate be somewhat insulated from public passions
  • Indicate faintly
    • the walls were not more than adumbrated by the meager light
  • Foreshadow or symbolize
    • what qualities in Christ are adumbrated by the vine?
  • Overshadow
    • her happy reminiscences were adumbrated by consciousness of something else
  • Of all this Howells was equally exemplar and critic. If his novels filled the air, so did his doctrines. The monthly articles which he wrote for “The Editor’s Study” in Harper’s Magazine between 1886 and 1891, though many of them were too timely to have survived, adumbrate the labors he performed on behalf of realism. 1921


Latin adumbratus sketched, outlined, past participle of adumbrare to shade or sketch in outline, from ad- + umbra shadow
First Known Use: 1581

Why This Word

The word has a delicious irony behind it: it precisely describes imprecise description. But it is also shadowy in itself. Whatever denotative meaning adumbrate carries in context, it is overcast connotatively by its other meanings - a sketchy outline which is meant to conceal as much as it reveals, shadows and much as it illuminates. Adumbrate calls into question, by implication, the motives of the descriptor. Is the plan merely incipient or intentionally vague? Contrast the jeopardy of the person buying into an adumbrated plan with the protection offered by the coverage of an umbrella - a word drawn from the same root. Is being shaded protective? Depends on what we are being shaded from.

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