I have learned from a Mark Liberman post at Language Log that there is a noun reveal meaning (according to the AHD)

The part of the side of a window or door opening that is between the outer surface of a wall and the window or door frame. b. The whole side of such an opening; the jamb. 2. The framework of a motor vehicle window.

or, in the (perhaps clearer) words of the OED,

A side of an opening or recess which is at right angles to the face of the work; esp. the vertical side of a doorway or window-opening between the door- or window-frame and the arris [‘the sharp edge formed by the angular contact of two plane or curved surfaces’].

That’s interesting enough, but what’s amazing is that it has nothing to do with the verb reveal (which is related to veil); it’s from a totally different (and obsolete) verb revale ‘to lower, bring down,’ which is related to vale and valley. As Mark says, Live and learn.


  1. xiaolongnu says

    Fabulous! That’s a word I use ALL THE TIME in my work — because the reveals at the entrance to most sixth-century Chinese cave temples are elaborately carved with guardian figures (see this site, about one of the caves I’m working on, where they are sadly referred to as “jambs” rather than reveals). But I never knew the etymology.

  2. Ditto about the etymology and about using the word all the time – in translating guides to churches and castles in Central Europe.
    And I’ve been to Longmen, but it was in 1975. I remember it well!

  3. I couldn’t find any official reference but in my everyday specs- and notes-to-millworkers- writing on architectural drawings I use reveal all the time.
    It means deliberate recess in millwork detail, not necessarily doorframes or doors, although could be applied there too. Could be specified for vertical wood panels, in different width and depth, on furniture (just yesterday I finished detail for custom console table with 1/4″ ebonized reveal on perimeter) or baseboards.

  4. And for us lowbrows, the reveal is that portion of the cable show Trading Spaces when the homeowners see how their neighbors have remodeled their room.

  5. I recall a discussion on “The Late Show with David Letterman” about a billbord that displayed the “reveal” of a woman’s breast; the reveal basically being the side of the breast.

  6. I realized I couldn’t actually visualize the thing from the descriptions, so I checked the Wikipedia article, which has a sort-of-useful diagram but also had a misleading statement implying the word was from the verb reveal, so I corrected it.

  7. Trond Engen says

    I’ve never known the English noun, but the Norwegian technical term for (the sides of) a recess for doors and windows is smyg n., and that I do use all the time, in discussions with architects, carpenters, and bricklayers.

    Smyg is obviously derived from the verb smyge “sneak (etc.)” and related to the noun smug n. “alley; stealth”. Tolkien’s sméag- is a cognate.

  8. Odd that the English Wikipedia article doesn’t link to any others, but I guess it’s a pretty obscure term — even Wiktionary doesn’t have the Norwegian noun smyg.

  9. Trond Engen says

    Even the quasi-official online Bokmål dictionary doesn’t have it, but oddly its Nynorsk twin does. Smyg.

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