Origin of amethyst
OTHER WORDS FROM amethystam·e·thys·tine [am-uh-this-tin, -tahyn], /ˌæm əˈθɪs tɪn, -taɪn/, adjectiveam·e·thyst·like, adjective
Words nearby amethyst
BEHIND THE WORD
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.
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
I shouted to Ave as we skipped through amethyst lupine fields on the way back to our cars.
Iggy Azalea was born Amethyst Amelia Kelly in New South Wales.
Azalea—then Amethyst Kelly—was born in Sydney and moved to Miami when she was 16.Stop Being So Surprised By the Rise of Iggy Azalea|Kevin Fallon|May 30, 2014|DAILY BEAST
The presence of phenol causes a deep amethyst-blue color, as in Uffelmann's test for lactic acid.A Manual of Clinical Diagnosis|James Campbell Todd
She looked down at the logs—smouldering now and with no more flame of rose-pink and amethyst.A Butterfly on the Wheel|Cyril Arthur Edward Ranger Gull
The amethyst glow went off the hills that ring our valley, and a far blue peak faded into the gathering 65 dusk.
And she wore the Medici boots, the amethyst tips peeping beneath her shining dress.The Medici Boots|Pearl Norton Swet
The pageant of autumn on our hills was 263 over, only an amethyst haze succeeding at sunset time.