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Friday, October 4, 2013

The Difference Between Parasols and Umbrellas.

I love parasols but I find umbrellas frustrating. Does that make sense? Let me explain.

Both are hand-held, portable methods of shading yourself from the elements (sun or rain) or in some cases bird poop.  They can even be used in photography to redirect light as desired. Various forms of parasol or umbrella (often used interchangably) are found throughout history. There are written records from 21AD China (and earlier) and Ancient Rome and India. Ancient Egyptians used them. In Greece they were a woman’s fashion necessity (and shade from the sun).

They can even be used as weapons. In 1832, a book titled How to Protect Life and Property advised on how to use the umbrella to defend yourself against highwaymen. In the early 20th century, there was a form of marshal art (called Bartitsu) using umbrellas and walking canes – and apparently used by Sherlock Holmes to defeat Moriarty at Reichenbach Falls.

So far, not much difference… Let’s try definitions.

parasol explorerAn umbrella is a ‘a device consisting of a circular canopy of cloth on a folding metal frame supported by a central rod, used as protection against rain.’ (Oxford dictionary). It is derived from the latin word umbra meaning shade. It can be portable or it can be of gigantic proportions for the beach or beside the pool. A yellow umbrella became the symbol to represent the faceless wife in ‘How I met your mother‘. When I think umbrellas, I think English men with bowlers and black umbrellas.

A parasol is a ‘light umbrella used to give shade from the sun’. (Oxford dictionary) The word is derived from Spanish: para meaning stop or shield and sol meaning sun. It seems to be smaller in size, traditionally has a straight handle, end instead of a curved one, and is portable.  In one of my favourite book series, the Parasol Protectorate by Gail Carriger, the heroine uses a gimmicked-out parasol as a weapon. The ‘chinese paper’ parasol with a colourful swirl is instantly recognisable as belonging to Kaylee on Firefly. For me, the parasol is the quintiscential symbol of the genteel Victorian woman protecting her peaches and cream complexion.

So that is my personal views on the difference between parasols and umbrellas. I prefer parasols because they are prettier, remind me lazy picnics and of  cups of tea. Most of all because they are usually not used during windy storms, they don’t blow inside out and poke me.

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