Which Word Wednesday: Naked vs. Nude

By October 9, 2013 language No Comments

inigo-montoya-what-you-think-it-means-memeOver the weekend, we had the joy of visiting with dear friends—friends who indulge my love for language by contributing entries for Which Word Wednesday. After coming across some discussion about the difference between naked and nude, they knew it was just the sort of WWW match-up I like. Let’s look first to the New Oxford American Dictionary:

naked :: adjective
(of a person or part of the body) without clothes; (of an object) without the usual covering or protection; (of a tree, plant, or animal) without leaves, hairs, scales, shell, etc.; (of something such as feelings or behavior).

adjective :: wearing no clothes; naked. (esp. of hosiery) flesh-colored.

noun :: a naked human figure, typically as the subject of a painting, sculpture, or photograph

Although both naked and nude refer to being bare, these words are not direct substitutes.

Naked is being without something—whether it be clothes, covering, leaves, hair, or scales. It refers to a lack, something that is typically covered but is not now, something that is vulnerable and unprotected.

Nude describes a human who is naked—but it does not apply to a tree that has lost its leaves. Rod Evans describes it like this in The Artful Nuance: A Refined Guide to Imperfectly Understood Words in the English Language:

“A newborn baby is naked at its birth, but a woman who disrobes and is a model for an artist is nude.”1

Mark Davidson explains that “when a nude artist’s model takes a shower, that person is naked. Nude has a more refined, esthetic connotation than naked.”2

What’s my WWW verdict? Naked and nude are grammatically different, but most people are not too concerned with the variance in terms of language. Maybe don’t ever type “naked versus nude” into Google to find other examples or a grammar-related pic. That’s not what you’ll find. And your naked eyes will see things that cannot be unseen.

What’s your verdict? Did you know the difference between naked and nude? Have you ever experienced Google search regret? Do share in the comments.


Check out previous Which Word Wednesday verdicts here.


1. Rod L. Evans, The Artful Nuance: A Refined Guide to Imperfectly Understood Words in the English Language (New York, NY: Penguin Group, 2009), 148.
2. Mark Davidson, Right, Wrong, and Risky: A Dictionary of Today’s American English Usage (New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company, 2006), 373.

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