No word for dead umbrellas?

« previous post | next post »

Yesterday in Philadelphia we had very strong winds and what the weather people call a "wintry mix", so (along with some big downed trees) there were lots of people holding on to umbrellas turned inside out and partly stripped of their fabric, and lots of wrecked umbrellas discarded along the sidewalks and stuffed into trash cans.

This naturally raises the question: Is there a word for an umbrella in this condition?

A Google Image search for "dead umbrella" turns up plenty of pictures, but "dead umbrella" is at best a metaphoric collocation, not a word, and one that allows several alternative interpretations, such as the one pictured to the right.

Even under the interpretation "umbrella rendered useless by damage", there are several different kinds of damage that might be distinguished. Have residents of (for example) Chicago, the famously "windy city", been moved by Whorfian forces to develop many words for variously-damaged umbrellas?

Or even one?




  1. Dick Margulis said,

    March 3, 2018 @ 12:37 pm

    I nominate paraphooey.

  2. Bob Ladd said,

    March 3, 2018 @ 12:38 pm

    Edinburgh is at least as windy as Chicago, and umbrellas in varying stages of destruction are a common enough sight, but I can't think of any evidence that Whorfian forces have affected the local lexicon.

  3. Rebecca said,

    March 3, 2018 @ 12:45 pm

    Even the Dead Umbrella Project doesn't seem to have a name for it.

  4. Brandon Seah said,

    March 3, 2018 @ 12:56 pm


  5. David said,

    March 3, 2018 @ 1:06 pm

    Nor does the Umbrella Cover Museum.

  6. SlideSF said,

    March 3, 2018 @ 1:09 pm


  7. Shihchuan said,

    March 3, 2018 @ 1:19 pm

    I only know that in Mandarin (at least in Taiwan), we say 雨傘開花 (yǔsǎn kāi huā, "the umbrella blossoms")

  8. Shihchuan said,

    March 3, 2018 @ 1:22 pm

    And there are actually also quite a few people asking how to say this in English, and the common common answers are "the umbrella is wrecked open" or "the umbrella turned inside out" : neither are noun phrase though (well 雨傘開花 isn't either, but one could always say 開花的雨傘 – "umbrella that blossomed")

    Which leads me to think: maybe "umbrellawreck" would be a good word for it?

  9. Victor Mair said,

    March 3, 2018 @ 1:23 pm


  10. Simon K said,

    March 3, 2018 @ 1:36 pm

    In China Mieville's excellent young adult fantasy novel Un Lun Dun, broken umbrellas play an important role in the plot, and are known (as Brandon Seah has already suggested) as "unbrellas".

  11. Y said,

    March 3, 2018 @ 2:06 pm


  12. Pflaumbaum said,

    March 3, 2018 @ 2:23 pm

    Mieville's / Brandon Seah's "unbrella" is excellent, but unfortunately in normal conversation assimilation would make it indistinguishable from the word for the living version.

    How about "umbroglio"?

  13. MikeM said,

    March 3, 2018 @ 3:24 pm

    Allerbum, not quite umbrella in reverse.

  14. Aidan said,

    March 3, 2018 @ 3:25 pm

    Brokebrella perhaps? [Um]brelleton (rhymes with skeleton)

    Do we need a separate word when just using an adjective works fine for the majority of situations? That's probably why none have been developed – unless there's some umbrella craftsmen that have their own vocabulary for broken umbrellas.

  15. aka_darrell said,

    March 3, 2018 @ 4:09 pm

    Many of the words over at Carey and Harbeck's Strong Language blog might be useful.

  16. ErikF said,

    March 3, 2018 @ 4:17 pm

    As kids, we sometimes called them "umbrella skeletons", but I can't think of a non-phrase. If I had to use a single word, "unbrella" sounds like it could be a contender though!

  17. Narmitaj said,

    March 3, 2018 @ 4:28 pm

    A noneberella? [A numberella]. Though that is mostly indistinguishable from an umbrella. It's just that the Ralph McTell Song "You Weather the Storm" has an umbrella line in it that makes me hear it as "a numberella".

    Into every life a little rain must fall
    And for sure it poured down on you
    An umbrella's no good in a hurricane
    But just like the sun in the end you come shining through

    You weather the storm
    And you come up smiling in the end

  18. Pflaumbaum said,

    March 3, 2018 @ 4:32 pm

    @ ErikF


  19. 번하드 said,

    March 3, 2018 @ 4:36 pm

    Hmmm, I can only think of paraplus (silent s), which kinda suffers from the same problem as unbrella.

  20. peter said,

    March 3, 2018 @ 5:02 pm

    On an analogy with flowering plants, perhaps “a dehiscent umbrella.” We could telescope this to “a dehisum.”.

  21. Rebecca said,

    March 3, 2018 @ 5:05 pm

    Since it’s a Regenschirm no longer, perhaps a Regenchimera?

  22. Duncan said,

    March 3, 2018 @ 5:52 pm

    I'm quite taken by the already suggested "un-brella", served with a side of humor, and emphasis enough on the "un-" to make it distinct. In writing a dash, as above, and/or "humor quotes" should make it distinct enough as well, with humor-quotes possible when speaking it as well, if desired.

    It seems to me that the chance of non-distinction only adds both to the appeal, and the emphasis of "un-" (and likelihood of humor-quotes) in speaking, as it entirely encompasses both the frustration and humor of the situation, as well.

    Meanwhile, having grown up in the tropical monsoon area of Kenya, I never really found umbrellas particularly practical in any case, both because of the possibility of them becoming "un-brellas", and because in that climate, while it would rain approximately an inch in an hour nearly every afternoon in the rainy season, it would only be cloudy about two, with the clouds arising well after lunch time and dissipating before sunset (which was always very close to 6PM due to the near-equator location). Additionally, with that wind and rain an umbrella simply doesn't work so well anyway, because the stuff is coming at you much like an open fire hydrant located on an overpass pouring water on the cars passing underneath at 100 kph!

    So with an umbrella you're carrying around this thing all morning for less than an hour's use in the afternoon, when it won't help much anyway, and may well become an "un-brella" if you actually try to use it! Not much help or practicality at all! Really, the only solution was finding a roof to be under. And visitors soon learned to pay attention to the time, the approaching wall, and the wind that picked up 30 seconds to a minute ahead of the storm. But if you weren't under a roof by the time the wind hit you had better be close, because that really was the time you had at that point, and if you didn't make it, you'd be soaked to the point it didn't matter any more within a few seconds after that wall hit, and an umbrella wouldn't help much!

    OTOH an umbrella didn't help much where we moved next to Oregon and then Washington either, where it didn't so much rain (as I was used to it anyway) as misted… sometimes for days on end.

    I guess "back east" the rain must normally come down pretty much vertically, at a steady but not overwhelming rate, without too much wind. /Then/ an umbrella might actually be useful (until days such as that described in the article, more the norm than not where I grew up).

  23. Jonathan Smith said,

    March 3, 2018 @ 6:00 pm

    開花 is interesting… I was thinking this called for the Chinese pun 傘架子 and it fits with references to skeleton above

    looks like unbrella may already be a brand name for an upside-down umbrella

  24. Viseguy said,

    March 3, 2018 @ 7:10 pm


  25. Viseguy said,

    March 3, 2018 @ 7:11 pm

    Sorry, I missed SlideSF's post.

  26. Lewis said,

    March 3, 2018 @ 10:02 pm

    Possibly a Numbrella or a Nonbrella?

  27. chris said,

    March 3, 2018 @ 10:05 pm

    Ex-umbrella? It is no more, it has ceased to be, etc.

  28. Ricardo said,

    March 3, 2018 @ 10:18 pm

    Could be wrong, but I dimly remember that in 'The Longest Journey' by E. M. Forster there is a description of an umbrella having been 'raked'.

  29. Michael Latta said,

    March 3, 2018 @ 10:43 pm

    In PA, I’d call it an umBRELla. In TX, I hear UMBrella, when they are stressed inside out by the wind it shifts to are umbrelLAs.

  30. turang said,

    March 4, 2018 @ 12:01 am

    In Sanskrit it is straightforward to coin a word chatra or aatapatra would be the word for an umbrella (the second word refers to protection from sun rather than rain). bhagna is the word for broken and bhagnachatra or bhagnaatapatra would be the words for a broken umbrella, using a (karmadhaaraya) samaasa.

  31. Narmitaj said,

    March 4, 2018 @ 1:59 am


  32. Jason said,

    March 4, 2018 @ 2:22 am

    @Shihchuan. "an umbrella turned inside out" is actually a noun phrase.

  33. Mient Adema said,

    March 4, 2018 @ 5:12 am


  34. Stephen Goranson said,

    March 4, 2018 @ 5:39 am


  35. Stephen Goranson said,

    March 4, 2018 @ 5:44 am

    a shade-shade

  36. Simon M said,

    March 4, 2018 @ 8:24 am

    An extension of Aidan’s point: how many objects do we have words for the broken form of? A broken tv is a broken tv, a smashed window is a smashed window, etc. There’s x-wreck where x is ship, car, etc, but I’m not sure that counts.

  37. bees said,

    March 4, 2018 @ 8:28 am


  38. Anthony said,

    March 4, 2018 @ 9:15 am


  39. Michael Himmel said,

    March 4, 2018 @ 10:50 am

    A blown-out umbrella. I'm not coining that, that's an actual lexical item for me. Never heard "dead umbrella" before.

  40. Robert Coren said,

    March 4, 2018 @ 10:56 am

    I have no words to offer for the object in question (although my mind is wandering in the general direction of the Monty Python "Dead Parrot" sketch), but I would suggest that the second illustration in the original post is a "death umbrella" rather than a "dead" one.

  41. Geoffrey K. Pullum said,

    March 4, 2018 @ 11:38 am


  42. Theophylact said,

    March 4, 2018 @ 2:53 pm

    Distinguishing between dead and live things is not always an easy task.

  43. Gwen Katz said,

    March 4, 2018 @ 5:38 pm

    Descriptions of the umbrella "flowering" or "blooming" do a great job of capturing its appearance, but make it sound like a good thing.

    Borrowing a term from vegetable gardening, I would say your umbrella has "bolted."

  44. Bob said,

    March 4, 2018 @ 7:05 pm


  45. TIC said,

    March 4, 2018 @ 8:44 pm

    Bob wins… Hands down…

  46. R. Fenwick said,

    March 4, 2018 @ 11:50 pm

    @ SlideSF


    Didn't he play Sherlock Holmes?

  47. Narmitaj said,

    March 5, 2018 @ 7:30 am

    Skelebrella, or skelliebrella. Brellaton, on the same lines.

  48. Robert Coren said,

    March 5, 2018 @ 10:11 am

    Thanks to @Theophylact for reminding me of my first, and still favorite, Gorey.

  49. DaveK said,

    March 5, 2018 @ 12:33 pm

    Blown umbrella? It connotes both the sense of wind blown and the sense of destruction, and in an archaic meaning, the sense of blossoming as well

  50. Victor said,

    March 5, 2018 @ 2:18 pm

    As long as it has some characteristics of an umbrella, but not its function, how about penumbrella?

  51. John M. Burt said,

    March 5, 2018 @ 6:31 pm

    I'm writing an article for the Corvallis Advocate, a weekly newspaper, about the colorful downtown alleys, which I would like to refer to as "the mean streets of Corvallis", but my editor is challenging me to prove that alleys really are sometimes referred to as "mean streets", and I am not having any success in searching out the term. Search engines are clotted with rhetorical uses of the phrase, burying any technical uses of it.
    Can anyone help me with this?

  52. bobbie said,

    March 5, 2018 @ 7:20 pm

    Bob for the win!

  53. ohwilleke said,

    March 5, 2018 @ 8:01 pm

    I can imagine a "Great American Novel" styled book entitled "The Land of Unnamed Things" musing on this and similar issues in elegant ways ad nauseum.

  54. DaveK said,

    March 5, 2018 @ 8:26 pm

    John M. Burt:
    Near as I can tell, the phrase "mean streets" originated as the title of a 1973 Martin Scorsese movie and never had any specific meaning apart from referring to a rough urban neighborhood.

  55. Hans Adler said,

    March 6, 2018 @ 7:34 am

    My nomination for the related concept of a upended umbrella:


  56. Stephen Johnson said,

    March 6, 2018 @ 12:22 pm

    For what it's worth I used capsized (I lost 3 in a day during an October wind & rainstorm some years ago), I do like UNbrella a lot.

  57. Frank said,

    March 6, 2018 @ 2:59 pm


  58. Invict said,

    March 6, 2018 @ 9:56 pm

    Brellafract? Umbrellabrupt? Mutilabrella? Dissimbrella? Disbrella? Fragbrella? Brellascrut?

  59. Stephen Goranson said,

    March 7, 2018 @ 5:49 am


  60. David Udin said,

    March 8, 2018 @ 2:33 pm

    @DaveK: I'm sure Scorsese was quoting a line from Raymond Chandler that starts “down these mean streets a man must go …". I don't know if the expression has further antecedents.

RSS feed for comments on this post