At the Wording Desk

Bill Casselman

Albedo
If you doff a white t-shirt and don a black one at summer’s end, you’ll be somewhat warmer, due to the differential albedo between white and black colors. In the summer, bright white color reflects almost all of the sun’s heat and thus helps keep you cool.
 
Albedo begins its English tenure as a technical term in astronomy. Albedo is sunlight reflected from earth’s surface back out into space or diffused in other earthly directions. Of course, albedo can be measured on planets other than earth too.

Albedo is a post-classical Latin word for whiteness, from the Latin color adjective albus ‘white’ from which we get other common English words like album, originally a book of blank white pages.

Italian gives us albino.

Egg whites contain a chemical called albumen which was the ancient Latin word for egg white.

A kind of surplice worn by priests and clerics is an alb, a vestment of white cloth that touches the wearer’s feet, from ecclesiastical Latin tunica alba ‘white garment.’

Aube, the French word for dawn stems from soldiers’ Latin alba, the dawn, the “white” part of the day, when light returns. An aubade was a song or music originally intended to be sung or played in the morning. An aubade was the opposite of a serenade, music to be performed in the evening (serenus Latin ‘late in the day, at twilight, when things and people may be at rest and quite serene’) when, one hoped, after the cares of the day one could rest serene during an interval of crepuscular repose and enjoy the serenity of the early evening.

Albion is a poetic name for Britain and refers to the White Cliffs of Dover, a geographic feature noted by the first Roman invaders.

Hubbly
This wintry adjective is strictly North American for “having an uneven surface.” Hubbly does not even appear in the Oxford English Dictionary, although this exclusion is part of the anti-American bias still lingering in that stuffy British wordbook, part of the OED’s Colonel Blimp attitude toward those “damned colonials.” Here in Canada I have only heard the word hubbly modifying the noun ice. Hubbly ice is bumpy. It may have snowed then rained then froze. You might be able to sleigh across hubbly ice but it makes for tricky skating.

Etymology
Hubbly could be a playful alternative to bumpy. One dictionary suggests it is cognate with a Dutch adjective hobbelig ‘rugged.’ It may be a folk adjective of the English noun hub meaning ‘bump.’ My guess? The form began as *hubby ‘bumpy’ but that made it a clumsy homograph and synonym for husband, so the coiner altered it to hubbly instead.

Homographs are words that are spelled the same but have different meanings, like pole and pole. Confusingly, homonym can be a synonym for homograph. But, usually, a homonym is a word with the same pronunciation as another word but with different spelling or meaning. Don’t you love imprecise grammatical definitions?




Bill Casselman, December 13, 2016

Text copyright 2016 William Gordon Casselman

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