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Wednesday, November 21, 2012

opalescent

The word opal is said to have been adapted from the Roman word opalus, however, the origin of this word is up for debate. The original root may have been adapted from the Indian Sanskrit root upala, for the stone opal was originally brought from India. Another claim that is up for debate is the Greek word opillos, which has two meanings. The first of which is related to seeing and forms the basis of a plethora of English words such as opaque while the second meaning to the Greek word opillos is other or alter. Using these definitions, it is said that the Roman word opalus combined these two meanings to create the final definition of “to see a change in colour”. Nonetheless, the argument for the origin coming from Sanskrit is strong. It was noted in Roman references around 250 BC. that opals were supplied by traders from the Bosporus, who claimed to have been supplied opal from India (4).

The word opalescent is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as an adjective that describes an object “exhibiting or characterized by opalescence; showing varying colours like that of precious opal” (1). It comes from the word opal, with the addition of the suffix escent, meaning “beginning to assume a certain state” (1). There are actually two forms of the word opal, one of which describes “an amorphous form of hydrated silica resembling chalcedony, often white or colourless, but varying through blue-green and orange almost to black and valued in those forms showing colourful iridescence” (2). The other form of the word opal is used to “reference the various changing colours of an opal” (2).

             The uses of the word opal are simple: the first form annotates the physical aspects of opal, the rock itself. The second form is using the word opal as an adjective to describe changing colours. For example, “The green of the transparent upturned leaves, the blue of the flowers, the orange of the submerged stems, and the almost amethyst of the water, together make a very opal of colour” (Westm. Gaz.) (2). In this case, the word is used to describe the colours similar to those found in the opal stone. The word opalescent is almost identical to the second usage of opal, however, the difference is that opalescent is used to describe the state of an object. For example, an oil stain on a wet sidewalk is said to be opalescent—the oil stain is to have an assumed state similar to the opal stone.




1.       "opalescent, adj.". OED Online. September 2012. Oxford University Press. http://http://www.oed.com/view/Entry /131677 (accessed November 21, 2012).
2.       "opal, n, adj.". OED Online. September 2012. Oxford University Press. http://http://www.oed.com/view/Entry /131673 (accessed November 21, 2012).
3.       "-escent, suffix.". OED Online. September 2012. Oxford University Press. http://http://www.oed.com/view/Entry /64260 (accessed November 21, 2012).
4.      Eckert, Allan W.. The world of opals. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1997.
5.      Australian Black Opal." australianblackopal.com. www.australianblackopals.com/home.html (accessed November 21, 2012).

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