Saturday, April 4, 2009


adumbrate [AD-əm-brāt]
v. 1. to give a sketchy outline of; 2. to prefigure indistinctly; foreshadow

[From Latin adumbrāre, ad- ("toward") + umbra ("shadow")]

Adumbrate seems like the kind of word which should be common in police work: "The witness didn't see everything, but she was able to adumbrate for us most of what happened."

Note, by the way, that adumbrate should be pronounced with the stress on the first syllable, AD. The reason for that, I think, is to differentiate its parts. If you mistakenly pronounce it, uh-DUM-brate, you lose the sense of umbra in AD-um-brate.

There are a handful of nice English words which find their root in the Latin word for shadow, adumbrate being one of them. Others include: umbra ("shade; shadow); penumbra ("a partial shadow; or an area in which something exists to a lesser or uncertain degree"); umbrage ("offense; annoyance; displeasure"); umbrella (" shade, screen, or guard, carried in the hand for sheltering the person from the rays of the sun, or from rain or snow"); and umbel ("a kind of flower cluster in which the flower stalks radiate from a common point, resembling an umbrella").

In his book Freedom Just Around the Corner, Walter McDougal gives a rough outline of what each of the two principal authors of The Federalist Papers, Alexander Hamilton and James Madison, was hoping to accomplish with his essays:
There is no point in trying to adumbrate this greatest of all political treatises except to say Hamilton played the pragmatist and Madison the theorist, Hamilton the salesman for vigorous government, Madison for limited, balanced government, Hamilton the exponent of unified sovereignty to defend liberty against foreign enemies, Madison of divided sovereignty to defend liberty against domestic enemies.

In The Revenge of Karl Marx, Christopher Hitchens credits Francis Wheen, a Marx biographer, with sketching a rough outline of one of Marx's theories:
In the story of the class struggle, it’s invariably a case of one step forward and two steps back. I know of two passages that explain why this is so. ... The second is the central chapter of Wheen’s book, which adumbrates Marx’s own version of the same competition—or rather losing struggle.

1 comment:

Anoop said...

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