Thursday, December 2, 2021

Language Of Confusion: Jewelry

It is the season where gifts are being bought, and jewelry is a big one. So let’s look into it.
Jewel showed up in the late thirteenth century, coming from the Anglo French juel and Old French jouel. Its origin before that isn’t certain, but one theory is it’s from the Medieval Latin jocale, which is from the classical Latin jocus. You know, the origin word for joke. But that’s crazy, you might be saying. Well, the other theory is that it’s from the Latin gaudium, which means rejoice. I guess that makes slightly more sense.
As in the one you put on your finger, since a ring like a bell is not related. It comes from the Old English hring, ring or circle, which is from the Proto Germanic hringaz. Now that’s from the Proto Indo European sker-, to turn or bend, which does make sense for something that’s essentially a circle. No idea what happened to the K though, or why they threw an ng in there.
Now, obviously neck is a word and lace is a word, but why are they combined like that? Necklace showed up in the late sixteenth century, literally just a combination of neck and lace. As it turns out, this is because lace, when it showed up in the early thirteenth century, meant a cord made of braided silk. It wasn’t just lace as what we know it as until the sixteenth century, and before that it could mean a net or snare, or a noose. So a cord that goes around your neck is a necklace.
This one’s a bit similar to the above. -Let is a common diminutive suffix, and brace is related to arms—the word originally meant armor for the arms. A bracelet is a diminutive thing for the arms. It showed up in the mid fifteenth century from the Old French bracelet, and that’s from the classical Latin bracchiale, an armlet. Bracelets go on the arms!
Now this word I find annoying because the pronunciation makes no sense with the spelling. Brooch showed up in the early thirteenth century, coming from the Old French broche, which meant a long needle. Makes sense since a brooch is a pin. Broach is actually from the same place, since it means to pierce, like you would with a long needle. But since a brooch was specifically a piece of jewelry, they altered the spelling to something stupid.
Online Etymology Dictionary
Google Translate
University of Texas at Austin Linguistic Research Center
University of Texas at San Antonio’s page on Proto Indo European language
Tony Jebson’s page on the Origins of Old English
Old English-English Dictionary
Dictionary of Medieval Latin
Fordham University


  1. Your last line made me chuckle.
    For necklace, just so long as that cord isn't a hangman's noose...

  2. So basically giving jewelry was a joke gift?

  3. So is "brace" meaning "two" related to the arm thing? Since most people have two arms.

  4. Fortunately out of my purview, and I'm glad for that.

  5. I want to now write it as hring. You think people will let me?


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