Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Day for February 4, 2020 is:

scumble • SKUM-bul  • verb

1 a : to make (something, such as color or a painting) less brilliant by covering with a thin coat of opaque or semiopaque color applied with a nearly dry brush

b : to apply (a color) in this manner

2 : to soften the lines or colors of (a drawing) by rubbing lightly


“In an accomplished artist’s hands, oil paint is fluid; it can be scumbled or glazed; it’s a more versatile medium than tempera.” — Cate McQuaid, The Boston Globe, 11 Mar. 2018

“Yet even more than usual, Ms. Yiadom-Boakye paints so hastily that she undoes her own best efforts. Backgrounds are often so light that you can see the weave of the linen underneath; faces are reworked carelessly, and the edges between the figures and backgrounds become scumbled.” — Jason Farago, The New York Times, 11 May 2017

Did you know?

The history of scumble is blurry, but the word is thought to be related to the verb scum, an obsolete form of skim, meaning “to pass lightly over.” Scumbling, as first perfected by artists such as Titian, involves passing dry, opaque coats of oil paint over a tinted background to create subtle tones and shadows. Although the painting technique dates to the 16th century, use of the word scumble is only known to have begun in the late 18th century. The related noun form soon followed.

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