• lapidary •
læ-pê-deri • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Adjective, Noun
Meaning: 1. (Adjective) Pertaining to gems or gemstones: engraving, cutting or polishing them. 2. Engraved in stone or of high enough quality to be graven in stone: memorable, polished, elegant. 3. (Noun) A person who engraves, cuts, or polishes gems.
Notes: This Good Word presents no pitfalls so long as we remember that when pluralizing the noun, we replace the Y with I: lapidaries "gem workers". The verb which underlies this word did not make the transition from "stone" to "gem". Lapidate means "to throw stones at, to stone (to death)", as is still practiced for adultery in the UAE, Iran, Iraq, Qatar, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen, Brunei, and parts of Pakistan. A related adjective, lapideous, means "like stone, stony".
In Play: The basic meaning of today's word is "(gem)stone": "Henry gave his fiancée an engagement ring mounted with a sensational lapidary creation." However, it may also mean "graven in stone" or "so memorable as to deserve being carved on stone": "Winston Churchill was known for—among other things—his lapidary quips."
Word History: Today's is another word borrowed from Old French, this time, lapidaire, inherited from Latin lapidarius "stonecutter". This word was originally an adjective meaning "related to or working with stone" from lapis (genitive lapidis) "stone". The only semantic relative we find in the IE languages is Greek lepas "rock, stone" with its adjective lepaios "rocky". A possible phonological ancestor is lep "chop or split off". However, we are missing an intermediate stage where the meaning was "small stone". (Here we thank George Kovac, a gem of a Good Word contributor, who made today's excellent recommendation in the Alpha Agora.)
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