[ am-uh-thist ]
/ ˈæm ə θɪst /
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a purple or violet quartz, used as a gem.
a purplish tint.
having the color of amethyst.
containing or set with an amethyst or amethysts: an amethyst brooch.
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Origin of amethyst

1250–1300; <Latin amethystus<Greek améthystos not intoxicating, not intoxicated (so called from a belief that it prevented drunkenness), equivalent to a-a-6 + methys- (variant stem of methýein to intoxicate; see methylene) + -tos verbal adjective suffix; replacing Middle English ametist<Anglo-French ametiste<Latin


am·e·thys·tine [am-uh-this-tin, -tahyn], /ˌæm əˈθɪs tɪn, -taɪn/, adjectiveam·e·thyst·like, adjective
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2021


Where did amethyst come from?

What could a beautiful gemstone possibly have to do with hangover cures and antifreeze?

Amethyst is a kind of a purple or violet quartz. Its rich and sparkling hue is so striking that it adorns jewelry as a gemstone. The value of amethyst depends on such factors as its color and size; as of 2020, amethyst cut for jewelry can fetch from $15-35 per carat (200 milligrams). People born in the month of February may have a special connection to it, as amethyst is that month’s birthstone in the U.S. and U.K.

But, if we look to the origin of the word, we will find that amethyst was beloved for … very different purposes in days of yore.

Amethyst entered English in the late 1200s from Latin amethystus, in turn from the Greek améthystos. Hazard a guess as to what améthystos literally meant in the ancient tongue of Plato and Aristotle? It meant “not intoxicating, not intoxicated.” (We’re not drunk, we promise!) Greek améthystos joins the prefix a-, meaning “not, without,” and a form of the verb methýein, “to intoxicate.”

Now, in ancient folklore, amethyst was believed to prevent people from getting drunk, and so imbibers wearing the stone could drink without feeling any of the consequences. It is important to note here that what the ancients called amethyst probably wasn’t the quartz variety we refer to today but maybe corundum or sapphire.

This superstition was already known to the ancients. Roman scholar Pliny the Elder even noted the amethyst myth in his encyclopedic Natural History. In one passage, Pliny described how magicians promised amethyst, in addition to its boozy benefits, would both ward off poisons and get face time with kings—if a person carved into it the names of the sun and the moon and wore the gem along with baboon hair and sparrow feathers. There was just something about wine-colored stones, apparently.

Amethyst continues to inspire modern myths, as it were. For instance, the popular animated TV show Steven Universe features a character named Amethyst, a magical sentient alien gemstone whose purple appearance reflects the color of the beautiful mineral. The acclaimed fantasy series, The Broken Earth Trilogy, by N.K. Jemisin features powerful obelisks made from minerals, including amethyst.

Dig Deeper

If we break down Greek methýein, “to intoxicate,” we can find that this verb is based on the noun methý, meaning, appropriately enough, “wine.” You may be more familiar with methý than you think (and we don’t mean, “it’s always five o’clock somewhere …”). Methý is related to the English word mead, “an alcoholic liquor made by fermenting honey and water”—the stuff those Anglo-Saxons guzzled down in their great halls in Beowulf.

And speaking of the word alcohol, you may have heard of methyl alcohol. This liquid (which you definitely shouldn’t drink) is used as solvent, a fuel, and an automobile antifreeze. Methyl alcohol is also called methanol. Both methyl and methanol derive in part from Greek methý, as do many other related words in chemistry, including methane, methamphetamine, and, lest we forget, hexamethylenetetramine. Discover more at our etymology of methylene.

Did you know ... ?

When not describing actual quartz, amethyst can also serve as a lovely or creative way to describe a rich, purple color.

And you might further consider diversifying your color vocabulary by exploring the beautiful birthstones for the other months of the year, according to the Gemological Institute of America:

How to use amethyst in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for amethyst

/ (ˈæmɪθɪst) /

a purple or violet transparent variety of quartz used as a gemstone. Formula: SiO 2
a purple variety of sapphire; oriental amethyst
the purple colour of amethyst

Derived forms of amethyst

amethystine (ˌæmɪˈθɪstaɪn), adjective

Word Origin for amethyst

C13: from Old French amatiste, from Latin amethystus, from Greek amethustos, literally: not drunken, from a- 1 + methuein to make drunk; referring to the belief that the stone could prevent intoxication
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Scientific definitions for amethyst

[ ămə-thĭst ]

A purple or violet, transparent form of quartz used as a gemstone. The color is caused by the presence of iron compounds in the crystal structure.
The American Heritage® Science Dictionary Copyright © 2011. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.