nuance

English took the word nuance, which means ‘a slight shade of difference,’ directly from French. Old French had created that noun from the verb nuer ‘to shade, to cloud,’ based in turn on the noun nue ‘cloud’ (source of the more-common French word for ‘cloud,’ nuage). Old French nue was a direct descendant of the *nūba that Vulgar Latin had made from the classical Latin word for ‘cloud,’ nūbēs, the ancestor of Spanish nube. From nube Spanish has created the following words:

nuboso ‘cloudy, covered with clouds’

nublar (or anublar) ‘to cloud over, to become cloudy’

nubada ‘a shower, a downpour,’ and figuratively ‘an abundance’

nubarrada, a synonym of nubada; as an adjective, nubarrado can describe cloth that is ‘dyed or colored like clouds.’

© 2014 Steven Schwartzman

7 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Jim in IA
    Jul 22, 2014 @ 13:39:22

    This fifth version of the post has no slight differences than the first four.🙂
    Am I missing some nuance?

    Reply

  2. shoreacres
    Jul 22, 2014 @ 20:10:09

    Interesting. I’ve always thought of a “nuanced position” as one where things are made more clear by fine distinctions. Given the word’s roots, there’s at least a suggestion that something highly nuanced might be useful for keeping things cloudy.

    I was curious whether the Nuba peoples of Sudan, or the Nubian people, might belong here, too. It seems so, from what I can find. The Nuba are made up of many tribes living in the Nuba Mountains. I suspect the name of the mountains came first, and then was applied to the various tribes. Nubians aren’t related to the Nuba, but the name seems to have arisen from the same roots.

    I think these are some of the prettiest words you’ve explored. Taken together, they remind me of this photo I took a while back of tangerine-colored virga falling at sunset. I’d love to have something dyed like these clouds.

    Reply

    • Steve Schwartzman
      Jul 23, 2014 @ 15:38:26

      In a positive sense, we can think of nuances as bits of the silver lining that clouds are said to have.

      The page you linked to has consolidated two words that appear to be unrelated (oh, the nonchalance of some websites). One nubia, which I’ve never heard of till now, is ‘a light fabric of wool, worn on the head by women.’ I guess that garment looked to people like a cloud, and the etymology from Latin nūbēs supports that. (Notice that the two dictionaries in which this word appeared are over a century old.)

      The other Nubia is the ancient kingdom to the south of Egypt. The Webster’s New World College Dictionary of 2010 traces the name of the people who lived there back through Classical Latin Nubae to Ancient Greek Noubai. I assume that was how the Greeks rendered the native name of the people they came into contact with there. Those people didn’t speak an Indo-European language, so there’s no reason to assume they had a native word related to Latin nūbēs.

      The modern-day Nuba live in south-central Sudan, but I don’t know enough to tell whether their name is related to that of the ancient Nubians, some of whom apparently lived in the same area. Names can persist for millennia (e.g. the modern Syrians who descend from the ancient Assyrians; the modern Palestinians who descend from the Philistines mentioned in the Bible), but I don’t know if this is another case of that.

      Virga is another new word for me, at least in its weather sense of ‘wisps of precipitation evaporating before reaching the ground.’ I knew the Latin original, which meant ‘rod’, and which meteorologists borrowed and redefined for their own purposes (like a slew of Latin words re-used in anatomy, zoology, and botany).

      I hope you find someone who can dye fabric to look like your clouds.

      Reply

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©2011–2016 Steven Schwartzman
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