Apr 27, 2016

Etymology Expeditions: Rare Stones

There are many kinds of rare gems in the world. Did you ever wonder how they got their names? Let's find out.

The word diamond comes from Old French diamant, from Vulgar Latin adiamantem, dia-  "through, throughout"+ adamantem"the hardest metal."

Ruby is also from Old French, from the word rubi. It in turn comes from Medieval Latin rubinus lapis, "red stone."

Sapphire, from Old French saphir, is derived from Greek sappheiros, "blue stone." Okay, not that imaginative, but does the job.

Emerald, you'll be shocked and surprised to hear, comes from Old French esmeraude (where else?). That comes from Latin smaragdus, from Greek smaragdos "green gem." That's where we get the Finnish word for emerald, smaragdi, by the way.

Okay kids, what did we learn today? The French have the best (words for) gemstones, and the fancy-sounding names are actually anything but. "Green stone." Point. Grunt. That's all you need for trade, really.



  1. Hardest metal, eh? I forget the exact spelling, but—No wonder Wolverine's skeleton is made of adamantium.

  2. One of the most rewarding things I ever did in university was take a course taught by the classics department in Greek and Latin vocabulary (plus a tiny bit of the grammar: declensions) Our text book was slanted towards physicians and biologists, but that was OK—If only I had taken the course before I took anatomy!

    Today I use the course not as a scientist but as writer and in everyday life. It is just so nice to be able to look at a word and see all it's parts and histories. By the end of the course I was studying by just looking at the big index. (yes, I did a blog essay on taking Latin) On the day of the final exam our test included the word dorm, as in dormant, and dormitory, what students call "the dorm" for short.
    When I handed in my paper I went up to the teacher and whispered, "Now I understand Alice in Wonderland: I know why the dormouse was always so sleepy!"

    1. Yep, etymology is fascinating, and studying it helps with world-building for science fiction and fantasy stories, too.


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