Saturday, November 7, 2009

What's the Difference Between Nude and Naked?

Note: Though a 'dated' article I thought it would be interesting to revisit the confusion and choice of usage between NUDE and NAKED - Rick

From Glode and Mail.comWednesday - April 7, 2004 (this article is no longer available online)
Alanis looked nude, Janet was naked

Since singer Alanis Morissette's body suit at the Juno Awards Sunday night was designed to make her look nude, should it have been spelled bawdy suit?

And what's the difference between nude and naked anyway? Why was Quentin Crisp (as his book title had it) The Naked Civil Servant rather than the nude one? Why is a nude beach not a naked beach? After Justin Timberlake exposed Janet Jackson's breast at the Super Bowl on Feb. 1, writers in this newspaper described it in two articles as a naked breast and in one as a nude breast. However, they preferred the expression "exposed breast," which appeared in five articles, and were so taken with Timberlake's desperate euphemism for ripping off Jackson's breastplate and brassiere -- "wardrobe malfunction" -- that they used it 11 times.

In a 2001 column, I noted that naked derives from the prehistoric Germanic naquethas and nude from the Latin nudus, but that both originated in the Indo-European nogw, unclothed. If there is a distinction, it may lie in the sound (nude is softer, naked has an aggressive k) or in the words' associations. The expression "in the nude" is coy, suggesting that a choice has been made to doff one's clothing. That's a far cry from the way we come into the world -- naked. The stage play has a nude scene; very civilized. We speak the naked truth; very harsh. When being unclad is natural, it's nudism; when it's startling, it's bare-naked. In the financial world, a naked option is one not backed up by its related stock. William and Mary Morris wrote that, while the words nude and naked are synonymous, "nude has the edge in gentility and is more likely to appear in polite publications than naked."

Hugh Rawson spoke to this point in his book A Dictionary of Euphemisms and Doubletalk. "A woman may pose for an artist in the 'nude,' but if she is seen minus her clothes by a Peeping Tom, then she is 'naked.' And if, as happened once in an art class I attended, the unauthorized viewing is done during the posing, then the model is simultaneously 'nude' and 'naked.' In this instance, the model immediately grasped the semantic point as well as her robe, and would not resume her pose until the cops had been called and the peeper chased away."

In comparing ourselves with other animals, we prefer the hard sound of naked: naked as a jaybird. When Desmond Morris placed humans with the rest of the kingdom in 1967, he called his book The Naked Ape, not the nude ape. But the animal kingdom does have nudibranches, which are marine gastropods that don't have shells, and nudicaudate creatures, which have no hair on their tails.

Coincidentally, the Anglo-Saxon word for tail in the 1200s was steort, later spelled start. A person who was starkers right down to the tail was known as start naked, until the expression evolved into stark naked. When Morissette opts for the modest option of a body suit, that may qualify as star naked.

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