Sunday, 30 January 2011

Etymological Gems

Following on from previous weeks when I have reproduced the research behind various articles on etymology, I came across the following snippets of information. I have made no notes regarding publication, nor do I remember being asked to write anything or submitting a single paragraph on the subject. I'm now wondering if I have upset an editor by failing to submit anything - in which case I shall probably regret this post!

agate - the English word is from the Latin achates or Greek akhates, both understood as 'the diminutive one'.

amethyst - is from Latin amethystus itself from the Greek amethustos which translates as 'anti-intoxicant', for amethyst was once thought to be a remedy for intoxication.

beryl - can be traced back to Greek beyllos and Sanskrit vaidurya, which is thought to be ultimately from the city of Velur in southern India. The word is also used in Middle Latin berillus, Middle High German berille and French besicles all referring to 'spectacles', all adding support to the idea that beryl was first used for the lens in eyeglasses.

coral - is derived from a Semitic word, seen in Hebrew goral, meaning simply 'pebble'.

cornelian - a variety of chalcedony, derived from Old French cornelle 'cherry' and thus 'cherry-coloured'.

diamond - it may seem strange to suggest this most desirable of gemstones has an idetical etymology to the word 'adamant' yet this is just the case. Diamond came to English from Old French diamant, itself from Latin diamas and Greek adamas meaning 'unbreakable, unyielding'.

garnet - can be traced back to the Old French gernat meaning 'dark red', although it may be even older and share an origin with pomegranate and refer to the shape and colour of the seeds and pulp as being similar.

jade - comes to English from the Spanish (piedra de) ijada meaning '(stone of the) flank', this refers to it being held to be a cure for renal colic.

jet - came to English from Old French jaiet, Latin gagates, and Greek gagates lithos meaning 'the stone of Gages', the name of a town and river in Lycia associated with the stone. It is not used a colour until the fifteenth century.

onyx - is a Latin word derived from the Greek onux 'claw, fingernail'. Hence there is a similarity drawn between the white vein on a pink background found in onyx and the similar marking on a fingernail.

opal - a word which can be traced through Latin opalus and Greek opallios to Sanskrit upala which simply means 'gem, precious stone'.

pearl - there are two equally possible origins for this word, depending upon if this referred to the pearl or to the oyster. If it comes from the pearl, then this would be Vulgar Latin pernula 'sea-mussel' and also used for 'ham' to refer to the shape of the shell. Alternatively it comes from the same source as 'pear', referring to the shape of the pearl.

rhinestone - is literally 'the stone of the Rhine', a literal translation of the French caillou du Rhin and referring to where this artificial gem was first produced near Strasbourg.

ruby - is from Latin rubeus 'red'.

sapphire - another which can be traced back to Sanskrit, here sanipriya meant 'sacred to the planet Saturn'.

topaz - was claimed by Pliny to be named from an island off the coast of Arabia, where it was said to be mined. However most linguists point to Sanskrit tapas meaning 'heat, fire'.

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