No, I’m not making words up. “Umbrageous” is a real word. It means both “forming shade” and “easily offended.” You know what’s umbrageous? Umbrellas. It’s funny, though, we don’t often pull them out when there is anything to be shaded from. Also, I’ve never seen an umbrella take umbrage at anything, not even that umbrella that Cho and I used as a foil in our epic duels, and that umbrella took a beating. (New form of rock, paper, scissors: Music stand beats umbrella, umbrella scratches ceiling tiles, ceiling tiles fall on music stand. Let’s not tell Mom about it though, okay?)
“Umbrage” is, perhaps obviously, the root from which “umbrageous” springs. It has all the wonderful twisty meaning wrapped up in its adjectival offspring and more. It can mean not only “offense” and “something that affords shade,” but also “shadow” or “a hint.” I have never heard it used for any but the first meaning, but I love discovering secondary meanings. They add such depth to the connotation of the way I experience words.
Complicated as the relationship between its meanings may be, the etymology of “umbrage” is simple and straightforward. The first appearance of the word in English was during good old Middle English, where is meant “shade.” This came to us through Old French from Latin (would it be terribly confusing and obscure if I started short-handing this path as the “Tour de Via Appia” or “TVA”? Yes?), where its most relevant form was umbraticum, or “of shade,” coming from the simple umbra, or “shadow.”
If you remember your elementary science, you’ll know umbra for the way we use it to describe an eclipse. In case you missed the point of my introduction, I’ll note that “umbrella” also comes umbra. Shade is the dominant idea behind the concept, and it’s not until sometime after the word appears in Middle English that it develops a primary sense that is, at face value, completely unrelated to shade. I could sit hear making guesses about the jump from shade to hints to offense until I’m blue in the face, but the reality is that coming up with anything resembling a respectable theory takes a great deal more time than I have to spend on the matter. Ergo, I shall leave you to imagine wild semantic histories for yourself.
That’s the fun part anyway, right?