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Jewelry Etymology in Different Languages

Well, what about words and languages? Always loved etymology. So, I decided to search jewelry etymology in different languages. Guess what: we all mean the same thing now days, but the origins are diverse.

The word jewellery itself is derived from the word jewel, which was anglicized from the Old French “jouel” (“ornament; present; gem, jewel”, 12th century), and beyond that, to the Medieval Latin word “jocale“, from Latin jocus “pastime, sport,” in Vulgar Latin “that which causes joy”. Love this version: I am always having joy creating jewelry!

In British English, New Zealand English, Hiberno-English, Australian English, and South African English it is spelled jewellery, while the spelling is jewelry in American English.

In Greek language kosmima (κόσμημα) derives from the ancient greek verb kosmo (κοσμῶ), which means to embellish something. Love this version also, since it connects jewelry with beauty (greek kalos/κάλλος). The other intersting thing is that kosmos (world) has the same origin.

In French language the word bijoux is borrowed from Breton bizoù ‎(“ring”), from biz ‎(“finger”).

In German schmuck has old origins and means originally, to push in a bit (about a dress). The etymology is a matter of some disagreement and is quite interesting. The lexicographer Michael Wex, author of How to Be a Mentsh (And Not a Shmuck), writes that the Yiddish term and the German term are completely unrelated. “Basically, the Yiddish word comes out of baby talk,” according to Wex. “A little boy’s penis is a shtekl, a ‘little stick’. Shtekl became shmeckle, in a kind of baby-rhyming thing, and shmeckle became shmuck. Shmeckle is prepubescent and not a dirty word, but shmuck, the non-diminutive, became obscene.

According to Leo Rosten in “Hooray for Yiddish!”, the pejorative use of the German “schmuck” derives from Schmock, which is closer to the original Yiddish word: and the transition of the word from meaning “jewel” to meaning “penis” is related to the description of a man’s genitals as “the family jewels” (!). The Online Etymology Dictionary indicates that the term derives from Eastern Yiddish shmok, literally “penis”, from Old Polish smok, “grass snake, dragon”.

I would really love to know more about the word jewelry in other languages!


8 thoughts on “Jewelry Etymology in Different Languages

  1. In Turkish it is ‘Takı’, the verb ‘takmak’ means to put on or to wear.
    Isn’t it Bijoux in French?

  2. In Ukrainian it calls – прикраси.
    In Russian – украшения.
    In Ukraine, we speak in these 2 languages.

  3. In French it’s “bijou” with a J not a Z a bizou (bisou) is a kiss 😉 Funny that the word that is the origin of “jewel” is French and not used in French any longer… Same with the word “suede” (which means Sweden is French)…the word is no longer used for suede (the leather) in French….but we do use suedine for the fake version…

  4. Very interesting information and gorgeous jewelry! Thanks for sharing!

  5. Smycken – in Swedish comes from old German, but could not find the any info about the origin. Only that it started to be used in the 1550’s in the sense to embellish/decorate similar to today.

    Thanks for sharing your post!

  6. Very interesting post! In Lithuanian jewelry means papuošalai, or we could use juvelyriniai gaminiai.

  7. Spelling mistake : For the French it’s “bijoux” (plural – singular is bijou)
    “bizoux” sounds like “bisous” and that mean kisses 😀

    Other than that, very interesting to read about the etymology!

  8. Thank you so much for all the information and the corrections!!!

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