What is 'umbrage' & how does one take it?

The SPH CEO's response to a reporter's question has generated a lot of chatter.

Andrew Koay | May 07, 2021, 02:11 AM

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On May 6, 2021, one word set Singaporeans abuzz: "Umbrage".

The sudden interest in the word came about after it was used by Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) CEO Ng Yat Chung at a press conference announcing the company's plans to transfer its media business to a not-for-profit subsidiary.

Responding to a question from a reporter asking about whether SPH's media business can maintain editorial independence following the restructuring, Ng began by saying: "Honestly, I take umbrage at your first question."

He later repeated the term:

"So in reporting the answer to this, I will tell you first that the fact that you dare to question SPH titles for — in your words — 'conceding to advertisers', I take umbrage at that comment."

Taken together with the rest of his fiery response -- he at one point declared that he was not a "gentleman" -- Ng's description of his visceral reaction clearly intrigued observers.

Word from the 1800s

If you're unfamiliar with the word, it might be because "umbrage" enjoyed its original heyday back in the 1800s.

Thankfully, it has a simple — and rather relatable — definition.

To take umbrage means "to feel upset or annoyed, usually because you feel that someone has been rude or shown no respect to you," writes the Cambridge Dictionary.

It is commonly used with the verb "take" (or "took", depending on the tense) as demonstrated by Ng, or if you're more of a sensitive person you could "feel" umbrage.

However, you may also "give" umbrage to someone, as in "the reporter gave umbrage to the SPH CEO by asking her question".

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, early use of the English version of the word conveyed a suspicion that one had been slighted or insulted.

Historically, the word has its roots in Old French and the Latin word for shadow, "umbra", which means that to give umbrage is the original "throwing shade".

Top image from Straits Times YouTube Channel