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

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. shoreacres
    Nov 09, 2012 @ 08:22:10

    When I saw “daub” in your title, I thought first of the mud daubers who like to make their home on my balcony, then remembered your photo of the pastel mud tubes on limestone rock.

    And of course there are the varieties of wattle and daub construction, including the Creek Indians’ mud-covered twig framing, and the Acadian straw-and-mud process called bousillage.

    As for alba, English has its own noun rooted there – the alb is a white liturgical vestment common in some traditions.


    • Steve Schwartzman
      Nov 09, 2012 @ 09:34:43

      I ran across the term bousillage some time ago and, after checking to see what it means, wondered if it’s related to French boue ‘mud.’ My Petit Robert says that it is. As for bouse itself, the root word in bousillage, that same dictionary tells me that it means ‘bovine excrement.’ People in the wilderness made use of what they had, right? The alb takes us back into cleaner territory.


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©2011–2016 Steven Schwartzman
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