May 26, 2012
When I was in college and graduate school, I don’t ever remember the word “nuance” being used, even in very rarified and theoretical discussions. In the last decade or two, I hear it everywhere in scholarly discussions in the humanities.
Where does the word come from? Etymology.com tells us:
- 1781, from Fr. nuance “slight difference, shade of color,” from nuer “to shade,” from nue “cloud,” from Gallo-Romance *nuba, from L. nubes “cloud;” related to obnubere “to veil,” from PIE *sneudh- “fog” (cf. Avestan snaoda “clouds,” Welsh nudd “fog,” Gk. nython, in Hesychius “dark, dusky”).
Nuance: a decent word with Classical parentage, but hardly a word to suggest precision in analysis: “I’ll just fog this point a little.”