In my nature photography blog I’ve used the word daub from time to time when mentioning a patch of color, especially as an out-of-focus complement to a primary subject. The fact that daub is monosyllabic and begins and ends with a consonant makes it a likely candidate to have an Anglo-Saxon origin, but that turns out not to be the case. The word (as a verb) came into English from Old French dauber, which had evolved from Latin dealbare ‘to whitewash, to whiten.’ The de, ancestor of Spanish de, was used in that Latin compound as an intensifying prefix, and the main element was from the adjective albus ‘white.’ Spanish can still use the resulting albo to mean ‘white,’ though that usage is poetic. In contrast, the feminine alba serves as an everyday noun meaning ‘dawn,’ the time of day when the sun begins to whiten the sky.
© 2012 Steven Schwartzman