[ kawr-neel-yuhn ]
/ kɔrˈnil yən /
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Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023


What is cornelian?

Cornelian is an alternate spelling of what’s more commonly called carnelian, a reddish gemstone. It is a variety of chalcedony, a type of quartz.

It varies from semi-opaque to translucent, and it can be various shades of red or amber. When it is variegated or banded (meaning the stone shows stripes of white), it is sometimes called agate.

It is considered a semiprecious gemstone, which is a label applied to gemstones that have a lesser value than those deemed precious. However, it is not commonly seen in fine jewelry and can be quite inexpensive. It is typically formed into a shape known as a cabochon, which is polished but not cut into facets. These are often used as beads in necklaces and bracelets.

It is one of the traditional birthstones for the month of August (though in the UK it is considered one of the birthstones for the month of July).

The word can also refer to a color—a shade of dark reddish-brown, like that of the gemstone.

Example: The ancient pendant was made from a striking piece of banded cornelian. 

Where does cornelian come from?

The first records of the word cornelian (in various spellings) date back to the 1400s. It comes from the Middle French corneline, which may be equivalent to the Old French cornele, meaning “cherry.” The change in spelling from cor- to car- in carnelian (which is first recorded in the late 1600s) is thought to have been influenced by the Latin carneus, meaning “flesh-colored” (a root also seen in the word carnation, which also may have influenced the spelling change).

The stone is found throughout the world, most commonly in India, Brazil, Germany, Indonesia, Russia, and Uruguay. It is a variety of chalcedony, a microcrystalline, translucent variety of quartz. Other varieties of chalcedony that are also used as gemstones include jasper and onyx. The coloring of cornelian is due to the presence of iron.

Cornelian has been used in ornamentation and jewelry since ancient times, with some artifacts dating to the 3rd century. It was frequently used to make cameos—engraved gems.

Did you know … ?

What are some other forms related to cornelian?

What are some synonyms for cornelian?

  • agate (when it is banded)

What are some words that often get used in discussing cornelian?

How is cornelian used in real life?

Cornelian is now more commonly called carnelian. It is considered a semiprecious gemstone, but it is often fairly inexpensive. People sometimes value it for what they believe are spiritual or mystical properties.

Try using cornelian!

True or False? 

Cornelian is a variety of the mineral known as chalcedony.

How to use cornelian in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for cornelian

/ (kɔːˈniːlɪən) /

a variant spelling of carnelian
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