A gem of a word

At its most literal, Spanish yema means a ‘bud or shoot of a plant.’ By analogy, Spanish speakers added in humans the sense ‘fingertip’ and in animals more generally the sense ‘yolk of an egg.’ That last meaning was further abstracted to ‘candy made from the yolk of an egg.’

Spanish yema developed predictably enough from Latin gemma, one sense of which was ‘bud.’ By a different analogy from any that Spanish followed, the Romans extended the notion of ‘bud’ to that of ‘precious stone, jewel,’ a meaning that English borrowed when it transformed gemma into gem.

© 2015 Steven Schwartzman


8 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. shoreacres
    Nov 30, 2015 @ 08:51:57

    A woman who comments on a blog I follow is named Gemma. I’ve always assumed it was a family variation on “grandma,” but now I’m not so sure. I’m going to ask her if her family considered her their little jewel when she was born.


  2. Maria F.
    Dec 02, 2015 @ 21:54:34

    Fascinating Steve. It’s amazing the transformation some words undergo.


  3. navasolanature
    Dec 03, 2015 @ 17:55:14

    Love your Spanish posts when I catch them. Now I will not forget yema. Quite a gem about how sounds shift.


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©2011–2016 Steven Schwartzman
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