• carat •
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. A measure of weight in precious stones equal to about 1/150 of an ounce troy, or 3.2 grains. 2. (Outside the US) A measure of the purity of gold equal to 1/24 the purity of unalloyed gold. Pure gold is 24 carats (or karats; see the next section).
Notes: Today's Good Word has a variant, karat, which is used in sense 2 above only in the US. So, in the US a diamond might be six carats in weight but gold is of six karats purity (6 parts gold, 18 parts alloy). Elsewhere in the English-speaking world, both are carats.
In Play: Today's Good Word (or words) first and foremost refers to jewelry: "Mercedes Benz thought that since all her gold jewelry was 24 karats, she should have a 24-carat diamond to match." Of course, karat is also a part of the word 24-karat, which may be applied anywhere "pure" or "absolute" is intended: "Phil Anders is a 24-karat scoundrel when it comes to his behavior toward women."
Word History: Pack your bags; we are going on a long journey retracing the tracks of carat. This word was first spotted in the form of Greek keration "little horn", a diminutive of keras, keratos "horn". (We recently found this word behind migraine, too.) The second meaning of this word, however, was "carob seed", a standard weight back in those days for weighing small quantities. Arabic picked up the word from Greek, converting it to qirat "pod, husk, weight of four grains". The Romans borrowed the word back from the Arabs as Medieval Latin quaratus "carat". This led to Italian carato and French carat, the word English borrowed. Are you still with me? Wasn't that fun?
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