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I'm trying to write a short thing about a jade statuette that my family has had for roughly forever, but when I looked up "jade", I found... nothing. Well, I found plenty of results, but there was nothing about the mineral, which is what I'm looking for.

So... what's the Latin word for "jade" (as in the rock)?

NB: I'd prefer an answer from ancient Latin, either classical or vulgar, but if there isn't a word from that period, I'll take the most concise word that modern Latin speakers would likely understand. It also doesn't have to be "pure" Latin – loan words from other languages work just fine, as long as they were used by Romans at some point.

14

From my googling so far, it appears that jade did not reach Ancient Rome, and classical Latin has no word for it. Possibly Pliny mentioned it in the Naturalis Historia, but he mentioned a number of green stones and it's not clear that any of them are jade. So, you're going to have to settle for Latin from a later time.

Normally a good first place to look for an established Latin word for something unnamed in Ancient Rome is Vicipædia, but Vicipædia has no article on jade.

If Isidorus of Seville mentioned it in the 7th-century Etymologiæ, it would be in book XVI, de lapidibus et metallis. I haven't checked thoroughly, but Isidorus does not appear to have mentioned jade, though iaspis might be a term for a broad category of green stone possibly subsuming jade. However, iaspis is almost certainly better translated "jasper".

As far as I can tell, Marbode's 12th-century De Lapidibus doesn't mention jade.

You sure picked a hard stone!

Possibly one of the earliest people to write about jade in Latin was Friar Odoric of Pordenone, who encountered jade on a visit to China in the early 1300s. From his travels:

in medio autem palacii est pigna quedam magna & alta passibus prulibus* quam duobus que tota est de quodam lapide preciosso nomine merdacas. & est tota auro ligata. & in quolibet ipsius angulo est serpens de auro, qui verberat eos fortissime.

My attempted translation, aided by Berthold Laufer's Jade: A Study in Chinese Archaeology and Religion:

In the middle of the palace is a big jar more than two paces high, made entirely of a certain precious stone called "jade". It's entirely lined with gold. Inside every corner of the jar, there is a dragon of gold, which attacks [them?] most powerfully.

Laufer believes that merdacas is a corruption of the Mongolian erdeni kash, meaning "precious jade". I didn't find any other uses of merdacas except to tell the story of Odoric's journey.

You might consider the etymology of jade. It comes from the Spanish piedra de hijada, "stone of the flank", so named because native Americans told the Spaniards that jade is useful for curing diseases related to the kidneys. Rewinding this back to Latin, you get petra iliata, though iliata is unattested.

The Latinitas Recens offers petra nephritica, using the Greek word for kidney.


*I'm assuming that prulibus is a misspelling of pluribus.

  • My issue with "Petra nephretica" is that it sounds like "kidney stone", and (Imo at least) jade is prettier than kidney stones. – Nic Hartley Mar 4 '16 at 21:43
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    @QPaysTaxes Indeed petra nephritica seems like a horrible name. With that kind of semantic cloggage, how would one say "kidney stone" in Latin? And merdacas sounds too much like merda. Perhaps some other lapidary has a good answer, one that can be verified through usage in a variety of books. – Ben Kovitz Mar 4 '16 at 22:25
  • I ended up writing "petra iliata" and adding a footnote that there's no Latin word for "jade". Thanks a ton! (And wrt your last comment, yeah, I picked the nicest-sounding one.) – Nic Hartley Mar 4 '16 at 22:26
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    but then what did the romans call kidney stones? – tox123 May 7 '16 at 23:27
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    I was just glancing at this and noticed "You sure picked a hard stone!" -- Gave me a nice laugh. (it's between 6 and 7 on the Mohs scale, depending on if you mean nephrite or jadeite and certain chemical properties of each, according to Wikipedia. For comparison, diamonds are 10, and talc is a 1) – Nic Hartley Mar 6 '17 at 17:21
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The term jade refers to two separate types of metamorphic rock, according to its Wikipedia entry.

Both forms, jadeite and nephrite, share the same etymology, which is detailed in the entry for Nephrite:

The name nephrite is derived from lapis nephriticus, which in turn is derived from Greek λίθος νεφρίτίκος; νεφρός λίθος, which means 'kidney stone' and is the Latin and Greek version of the Spanish piedra de ijada (the origin of "jade" and "jadeite"). Accordingly, nephrite jade was once believed to be a cure for kidney stones.

It certainly is not a pleasant name and I have been unable to locate uses of the term nephriticus used outside of its normal renal context (Lewis & Short cite an occurrence in Cael. Aur. Tard. 5, 1, 6.)


As a (in my opinion, highly amusing) footnote, it is interesting that this translation evokes the kidneys while Ben Kovitz's other credible proposal based on Friar Odoric, merdacas, evokes similar concepts.

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Smaragdus refers to emeralds or more generally to green stones, and according to Lewis & Short overlaps with Joel Derfner's suggestion of malachita. Pliny used many words for green precious stones, including iaspis, topazus, and others that can be found via an English-Latin Lewis & Short search for "jasper", but it seems that all are borrowed from Greek.

  • A Greek loan word into Latin is fine, as long as it was used by Latin-speaking people or is otherwise standard somehow. – Nic Hartley Mar 3 '16 at 6:05
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Lewis & Short don't have jade but they do have malachite, which nisi fallor is another green semi-precious stone. That's malachita.

  • Wasn't the silk road around during this time? Surely jade would have been traded too? – tox123 May 7 '16 at 23:28

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