Meanings: “Nuance”

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:

nuance Look up nuance at Dictionary.com
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.”

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About Doug Bennett

Doug Bennett is Emeritus President and Professor of Politics at Earlham College. He has a wife, Ellen, and two sons, Tommy (born 1984) and Robbie (born 2003).
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