What does adumbrate mean?

Reading time: Less than 1 minute

Increase your vocabulary and you’ll make your writing much more precise. That’s why I provide a word of the week. Today’s word: adumbrate.

I’m looking forward to reading David Mitchell’s new book The Bone Clocks, a gift to me, from my husband. Billed by the magazine Vanity Fair as “an epic in many voices featuring supernatural beings, rips in reality and a global battle between good and evil,” the book sounds fascinating if slightly daunting. My plan is to read it over Christmas.

I started, however, by reading a James Wood review in the Sept. 8/14 New Yorker. Headlined, “Soul Cycle,” the review gave me my word of the week, adumbrate. Here’s how Wood used it:

Does Cloud Atlas do much more than announce and adumbrate a universal, and perhaps not very interesting interconnectedness?

A word I didn’t recognize! I looked it up in my dictionary and learned it has three meanings:

  • to report or represent in outline
  • to indicate faintly
  • to foreshadow or symbolize

The origin of the word is Latin (1580s) — from the past participle of adumbrate meaning “to represent (a thing) in outline.”