Word: umbra

Pronunciation: ƏM-brə

Part of Speech: noun

Definition: the fully shaded inner region of a shadow cast by an opaque object, especially the area on the earth or moon experiencing the total phase of an eclipse

Source: Oxford Dictionaries


Today’s the big day of the total solar eclipse! If you’re in the United States, you’ll have a chance to see at least a partial eclipse from wherever you are, so be sure to check NASA’s timetable of viewing times for your location (or if you’re anywhere else in the world, be sure to catch NASA’s live stream)! In the meantime, here’s a new vocabulary word to celebrate this rare event! Most of us here in the U.S. will get to see part of the eclipse, but only the lucky few total eclipse viewing areas will be in the path of the “umbra”!

“Umbra” refers to the fully shaded inner region of a shadow cast by an opaque object, typically the area on the moon or the Earth experiencing the total phase of an eclipse. The word arose in the late 16th century and was originally used to denote a ghost or phantom. This noun stems from the Latin noun umbra, meaning “shadow” or “shade”.

Aside from its primary meaning, “umbra” is a literary term for “shadow” or “darkness”, while in astronomy, it can also refer to “the dark central part of a sunspot”. You may remember the Latin root umbra from another word I’ve written about before, which also means “to overshadow”. If you’re writing about an eclipse or simply want to work a more literary word for “shadow” into your stories, “umbra” is a good word to include in your vocabulary!

What are your thoughts on this word? Any suggestions for future “Word of the Week” featured words?

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