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Natural Gemstones, Unnatural Names

Padparadscha Sapphire, Paraiba Tourmaline & Spessartite Garnet
Padparadscha Sapphire, Paraiba Tourmaline & Spessartite Garnet

Spessartite Garnet from GemSelectThe world of gemstones has one foot in the technical world of mineralogy and one foot in the commercial world of jewelry. So it's not surprising that it has a mix of strange and unusual names and ordinary and familiar ones. The strange and unusual ones are hard to remember and, in many cases, even harder to spell. But it's surprising how often the familiar ones are misspelled as well.

Some of the misspellings we see are really just variants, and whether they are misspelling or not depends on where you learned your English. In the UK (and also in Canada and Australia), the science of gemstones is known as gemmology; elsewhere it is known as gemology. Similarly for colour and color, and facetted and faceted. Some variants are perhaps not even regional, such as 'spessartite' and 'spessartine'. But we're fairly sure that 'jems' and 'jemstones' are always wrong.

Natural Paraiba Tourmaline from GemSelectThe most common misspelling of a gemstone term is is of a long and difficult word originating in Sri Lanka. The English rendering of the Sinhalese word for lotus blossom is padparadscha. You'll find many incorrect variants of it, including 'padparadsha', 'padparascha', 'padparacha', 'padparadsha', and 'padparasha', You can't really blame anyone for misspelling that mouthful of syllables.

Another foreign term for a rare and valuable kind of tourmaline is the next most frequently misspelled term. Paraiba is the name for a type of copper-bearing tourmaline first found in the state of Paraiba in Brazil. The word is short and fairly easy to pronounce. But it is nonetheless frequently misspelled as 'Pariba' or 'Pariaba' tourmaline. You'll sometimes see 'Paraiba topaz' as well. The spelling is correct, but there is no such thing as Paraiba topaz.

Blue Madagascar SapphireMany English speakers seem to have trouble with gemstone terms that have foreign origins. The term cabochon, the name for a stone cut with a highly polished rounded or convex top with no faceting, comes from the French 'caboche,' meaning small dome. We frequently see it misspelled as 'cabachon'. Or some writers try to make it more French, and spell it 'cabouchon'. Marquise, referring to an elongated oval shape with points on both ends, is often spelled 'marqui' and 'marquis'.

Cabochon Gemstones at GemSelectA rare and valuable color change gem, alexandrite, has a name that changes more often that its color. We've seen 'alexanderite', 'alexandrit', 'alexandria', 'alexandra' and 'alexendrite'.

Even some of the most familiar gemstone names are misspelled more often that one would expect. We often see 'blue saphire' and 'star saphire'. You wouldn't think many people would misspell diamond, but we see 'dimond', 'daimond' and 'diamon'. Then there's 'tanzinite' and 'tanzenite'. Not to mention 'andasine', 'labrodite', 'labordorite' and 'rhodonite'.

  • First Published: December-25-2007
  • Last Updated: January-23-2019
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