The parasol and parapluie

29 Jan 2015

Jati’s range of outdoor umbrellas continues to increase year on year. Just as styles have evolved to suit our lifestyles, so too have the fabrics and materials used.

But of course, the term umbrella as it relates to sun shading is a misnomer – the correct term in this case is parasol.

This word comes from the Spanish and French languages, and is a combination of para (meaning to stop or shield) and sol (meaning sun). The French word parapluie similarly consists of para with pluie (meaning rain – the Latin word being pluvial).

Hence, a parasol shields from the sun while a parapluie shields from the rain.

The word umbrella evolved from the Latin word umbella (an umbel being a flat-topped rounded flower) or umbra, meaning shaded or shadow. The suffix elle is used in French to denote little, thus an umbrelle (umbrella) is a “little shadow.”

Parasols are thought to have first been used in ancient Mesoptamia (now the Middle East) exclusively by the monarchy. Records also indicate their similar use followed in the ancient worlds of China, Egypt, Greece, Rome, India and Siam (now Thailand).


Depiction of woman holding Umbrella in the Gupta Empire CE 320
Source: Wikipedia

However it seems it was not until the 17th century before umbrellas came to Europe, probably adopted from China.

Closer to home, Captain James Cook, reportedly saw and noted the use of umbrellas made from palm leaves by natives of the South Pacific islands, during one of his voyages.

Internationally, the umbrella is appreciated by its adorers on the 10th of February each year, with National Umbrella Day.

So on Tuesday February 10 this year, put up your umbrella and celebrate one of man’s greatest, and more useful, inventions.