Archive for Thursday, May 13, 2010

What is brolliology?

May 13, 2010

Did you ever notice that as soon as you need something, you can’t find it? It is that way with me as far as umbrellas are concerned. At one time we had several in each car and at least three in a closet inside our house. Now for some strange reason we are lucky to find one, and it is never in the right place at the right time. 

Umbrellas have many different names and the study of them is called “brolliology,” and no one can agree on whether they were first used as a protection from the rain or the sun. Some of these names are the brolly, the gamp, the parasol, the parapluie, the bumbershoot, the bumbersoll, to us the umbrella. March is National Umbrella Month and umbra is a Latin word that means shade or shadow.

Around 1800 an umbrella weighed about 10 pounds, as its frame consisted of wooden rods and whale bone.

Women carried umbrellas long before men and in England Jonas Hanway, who died in 1786, made the umbrella fashionable for men. They carried theirs tightly rolled up to resemble a walking stick. Until this happened they were considered a feminine fashion and the ladies carried theirs more closed than open. As early as 1350 BC pictures show servants shading royal heads with long-handled parasols. 

If you have ever been to a football game and someone blocked your view with an umbrella, you may find it comforting to know that the Romans had a similar complaint at their games, with a hot dispute over parasol use finally decided by Emperor Domitian, in favor of the sunshade. That happened to us at a football game and the rain from the umbrella in front of me ran right down into my lap. I think I will invent an umbrella with downspouts.    

Now you see all types of umbrellas, many for patios or the beach. In old paintings the ladies held fancy umbrellas to show class.

Now most of our umbrellas are imported from Hong Kong and Japan. The Japanese cornered the market in the 1950s and in England 300,000 were produced each month.

There is a widespread superstition that opening a bumbershoot indoors brings bad luck. Then of course is the age-old belief that to assure a rainy day is to leave your umbrella at home. I just wish I could find as many umbrellas as I have lost.

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