Printable Version
Pronunciation: pe-nêm-brê Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: 1. The edge of a shadow which is shady but brighter than the center of the shadow, especially the shadow (umbra) of an eclipse. 2. A gray area that is not totally dark. 3. The outer region of anything that is not as pronounced as the center, a gray area.

Notes: Today's Good Word is very liberal in its choice of forms. It sports two adjectives, penumbral and penumbrous; take your pick. You may also take your pick of the plurals: penumbrae or penumbras. It is a very relaxed word, as you would expect of a word that is always in the shade.

In Play: Umbrella, umbra, penumbraBetween eclipses, this word is used mostly to refer to light shadows: "In the lacy penumbra of the dogwood tree, Maud Lynn Dresser's new pink jacket appeared almost red." It may also be used to describe wholly metaphorical shadows: "Jess Newcomb's wife always felt herself in Jess's penumbra when they were on the campaign trail." This is slightly better than falling under his shadow.

Word History: Today's Good word is New Latin penumbra unadulterated. It is based on Old Latin paene "almost" + umbra "shadow". That umbra is the same one you see in umbrella, a device originally designed to protect the lovely white skin of European ladies from the rays of the sun. We also find it in umbrage, which now means "offense" as much as it does "shade", as does its lovely adjective umbrageous "shady; offensive". Paene can also be found in penultimate "next to (almost) the last" as in the penultimate syllable of a word, and penultimatum, the almost ultimatum in which you threaten an ultimatum.

Dr. Goodword,

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