nuance

noun
nu·​ance | \ ˈnü-ˌän(t)s How to pronounce nuance (audio) , ˈnyü-, -ˌäⁿs; nü-ˈän(t)s, nyü-, -ˈäⁿs \

Definition of nuance

1 : a subtle distinction or variation Nuances of flavor and fragrance cannot be described accurately …— Scott Seegers … these terms have certain nuances of meaning …— Ben F. Nelms
2 : a subtle quality : nicety … the nuances of an individual's voice …— Michael Swaine
3 : sensibility to, awareness of, or ability to express delicate shadings (as of meaning, feeling, or value) … a performance of remarkable pliability and nuance.— Irvine Kolodin

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Nuance: So Subtle You Might Miss It

Although nuance is defined as "a subtle distinction or variation," the adjective subtle is frequently seen modifying the noun:

Ms. Fyfield is remarkably thorough in her psychological profiles, giving subtle nuances to characters who are mere passers-by in this psychodrama.
Marilyn Stasio, The New York Times Book Review, 27 Aug. 1989

Still, the beloved diva sustained exquisite control of her vast vocal resources, enriching line after line with gleaming tone and subtle nuance.
Martin Bernheimer, The Financial Times, 15 Nov. 2016

Since the definition of nuance already connotes subtlety—we don't speak of blatant or obvious nuances—some might regard the use of subtle as a modifier here to be redundant. But the fact of its frequent use is an indication that the connotation of subtlety in nuance might itself be too subtle to be picked up by many English speakers.

Did you know?

The history of "nuance" starts in Latin with the noun nubes, meaning "cloud." "Nubes" floated into Middle French as nue, also meaning "cloud," and "nue" gave rise to nuer, meaning "to make shades of color." "Nuer" in turn produced "nuance," which in Middle French meant shade of color. English borrowed "nuance" from French, with the meaning "a subtle distinction or variation," in the late 18th century. That use persists today. Additionally, "nuance" is sometimes used in a specific musical sense, designating a subtle, expressive variation in a musical performance (such as in tempo, dynamic intensity, or timbre) that is not indicated in the score.

Examples of nuance in a Sentence

Between the lines of lexicographical nuance and quotation, Johnson was paying old debts and seeking out wisdom about himself and his adopted city, as well as compiling perhaps the greatest commonplace book in the history of mankind. — Andrew O'Hagan, New York Review, 27 Apr. 2006 In every silky statement from General Musharraf about the need for a short—in other words: limited—war, and in every nuance of the Pakistani official posture, I was sure I detected the local version of Schadenfreude. — Christopher Hitchens, Vanity Fair, January 2002 To La Farge, eccentricity meant convention; a mind really eccentric never betrayed it. True eccentricity was a tone—a shade—a nuance—and the finer the tone, the truer the eccentricity. — Henry Adams, The Education of Henry Adams, 1907 He listened to the subtle nuances in the song. a poem of little depth and nuance
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Recent Examples on the Web The show depicts a folklore and culture rarely depicted in global media, let alone with nuance. Eric Vilas-boas And John Maher, Vulture, 9 Sep. 2021 Despite having supported sanctions and other moves that essentially treated the Taliban as terrorist actors, Beijing has always approached them with nuance as a political group, according to Small. Jessie Lau, Quartz, 3 Sep. 2021 Alex Espinoza, a writing professor at UC Riverside, was struck by Escandón’s ability to write about L.A. with nuance. Los Angeles Times, 1 Sep. 2021 Both Jassey and Flayton explain their own positions -- their culture, their faith, their support for Israel but not all the actions of its governments -- with great nuance. Mallory Simon, CNN, 30 June 2021 This Freeform series is one of the most diverse and inclusive shows on the air, which tackles current social justice issues with thoughtful nuance while offering entertaining plots about 20-somethings in Los Angeles. People Staff, PEOPLE.com, 3 June 2021 That socialization can be better aided if news media organizations reassess risk, narrate risk with more nuance and do not frame this next stage of the pandemic in all-or-nothing terms. Steven W. Thrasher, Scientific American, 10 May 2021 The nuance in Royal Caribbean’s decision lies in the cruise line’s decision to accept unvaccinated children under 12, who are not yet eligible for the vaccine in the United States. Akash Pasricha, Anchorage Daily News, 22 July 2021 Just like the nuance between served ads versus downloaded ads above. Dr. Augustine Fou, Forbes, 10 May 2021

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'nuance.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of nuance

1781, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for nuance

French, from Middle French, shade of color, from nuer to make shades of color, from nue cloud, from Latin nubes; perhaps akin to Welsh nudd mist

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Last Updated

13 Sep 2021

Cite this Entry

“Nuance.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/nuance. Accessed 24 Sep. 2021.

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More Definitions for nuance

nuance

noun

English Language Learners Definition of nuance

: a very small difference in color, tone, meaning, etc.

More from Merriam-Webster on nuance

Nglish: Translation of nuance for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of nuance for Arabic Speakers

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