- carat (n.)
- also karat, mid-15c., from Middle French carat "measure of the fineness of gold" (14c.), from Italian carato or Medieval Latin carratus, both from Arabic qirat "fruit of the carob tree," also "weight of 4 grains," from Greek keration "carob seed," also the name of a small weight of measure (one-third obol), literally "little horn" diminutive of keras "horn of an animal," from PIE *ker- (1) "horn, head" (see horn (n.)).
Carob beans were a standard for weighing small quantities. As a measure of diamond weight, from 1570s in English. The Greek measure was the equivalent of the Roman siliqua, which was one-twentyfourth of a golden solidus of Constantine; hence karat took on a sense of "a proportion of one twentyfourth" and became a measure of gold purity (1550s). Eighteen carat gold is eighteen parts gold, six parts alloy. It is unlikely that the classical carat ever was a measure of weight for gold.