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A History of ‘Shade,’ Illuminated in The Times’s Pages

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In Word Through The Times, we trace how one word or phrase has changed throughout the history of the newspaper. In February, The New York Times reported on scientists hoping to throw shade — over Earth.

To throw shade means “to subtly insult or blatantly show contempt for” something or someone, according to “The Queens’ English: The LGBTQIA+ Dictionary of Lingo and Colloquial Phrases” by Chloe O.

Davis. (The scientists, we should note, were not insulting Earth: They were devising a sunshade prototype that would block a portion of solar radiation.) Early uses of “shade” in The Times align with an earlier definition, as provided by the Oxford English Dictionary: “comparative darkness.” An article from 1860 shared one scientist’s argument that light was crucial to women’s health.

He made this comparison: “a plant or shrub grown in the shade never displayed the same amount of color or strength as those which enjoy the light of the Sun.” Around the 1600s, there was a “boom in poetic and figurative speech,” the lexicographer Kory Stamper said in an interview.

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