Diamond: what’s in a name?


The word “diamond” for the awesome stone forge of carbon by heat and pressure makes sense. The etymology of diamond is fascinating. (Etymology is the study of evolution of words…not bugs. That’s entomology.) According to one of my favorite and most used apps, Merriam-Webster, diamond is rooted in Middle English diamaunde, the Middle French diamand, the Late Latin diamant, and the Greek adamas. The most commonly reference origin is the Greek adamas, which is reported to translate to invincible, unbreakable, inflexible, which makes sense as a descriptor of the substance that, for most of human existence, was the hardest material known to man.

My burning question is…why is this simple little rhombus symbol called a diamond? ◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊

I went down the internet rabbit hole in search of an answer. And I got nothing. No etymology on the use of the word for the shape.

Then I got to thinking, maybe a diamond is only a diamond in English. Bingo!

From what I can tell, only our Anglo tongues use the same word for these three very different things. Of the languages I sampled, all used a different word for the diamond shape and yet another word for the diamond suit in a card deck. The word for the shape either appeared related to the English word for rhombus (a square standing on one point for you non-math lovers) or lozenge. In fact, when I inserted the little diamond symbol above, Microsoft Word calls this “◊” a lozenge. Merriam-Webster agrees. The first definition of lozenge (and the only one I knew) was a small candy that usually contains medicine i.e. a cough drop. Turns out, a lozenge is “a shape that is formed by four equal straight lines and that has two opposite angles that are smaller than a right angle and two opposite angles that are larger than a right angle.” That is to say….◊

Below is a sampling of words for the mineral, the shape, and the card suit made using English translation dictionaries. You don’t have to speak the languages to see the words are different.


Language The Mineral The Shape The Card Suit
English diamond diamond diamonds
French1 diamant losange carreau
Italian1 diamante rombo, losanga quadri
Spanish1 diamante rombo diamantes
Chinese1 钻(鑽)石 (zuànshí) 菱形 (língxíng) 方块(塊) (fāngkuài)
Greek2 διαμάντι ρόμβος καρό
Russian3 алмаз ромб бубны
  1. https://www.collinsdictionary.com/us
  2. https://translate.yandex.com/translator/English-Greek
  3. https://dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/english-russian

So, I still don’t know why a ◊ is called a diamond. I am just going to accept it as one of those quirks of the English languages that makes absolutely no sense and move on. (Well, there’s two hours of my life I’m never getting back.)

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