• nacreous •
nay-kri-ês • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Adjective
Meaning: 1. Comprising or resembling nacre, otherwise known as mother-of-pearl. 2. Lustrous with a play of rainbow colors, iridescent.
Notes: The plethora of clippings like prof, rep, and pic suggest that English speakers like shortcuts. So, it is odd that we prefer the long, misleading phrase mother-of-pearl to the much shorter and simpler nacre [nay-kêr]. Especially so, since this Good Word comes replete with family members for all occasions: nacred "covered with mother-of-pearl", and a choice of nouns: nacreosity or nacreousness "iridescence".
In Play: Nacreous clouds are familiar to meteorologists, but why let them have all the fun? "The Kremlin, framed in the nacreous clouds of sunset, burned an indelible picture in his mind." In fact, it is a word that should raise its beautiful head whenever iridescence catches our eye: "He loved the smell of the salt and sun on her hair, now nacreous in the light of the setting sun."
Word History: Today's word comes from afar. We borrowed it, as usual, from French, this time from nacre "mother-of-pearl". French absorbed it from Old Italian naccara "drum, tambourine, mother of pearl" (Modern Italian nacchera "tympani, tambourine, mother of pearl"), a Western copy of Arabic naqqara "small drum, eardrum". The Arabic noun came from the verb naqara "to bore or pierce", apparently how drums were once made in the Middle East. The Italian word went on to become nacchera and, even though dictionaries call it archaic today, it may also mean "nacre". The more common Italian word today is madreperla "mother of pearl".
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