Etymology
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pearl (n.)

"nacreous mass formed in the shell of a bivalve mollusk as a result of irritation caused by some foreign body," early 14c., perle (mid-13c. as a surname), from Old French perle (13c.) and directly from Medieval Latin perla (mid-13c.), which is of unknown origin. Perhaps from Vulgar Latin *pernula, diminutive of Latin perna, which in Sicily meant "pearl," earlier "sea-mussel," literally "ham, haunch, gammon," so called for the shape of the mollusk shells.

Other theories connect it with the root of pear, also somehow based on shape, or Latin pilula "globule," with dissimilation. The usual Latin word for "pearl" was margarita (see margarite).

Used from 14c. of anything valuable or of the finest kind; from mid-15c. of something small, round, and glistening white. For pearls before swine, see swine. Pearl Harbor translates Hawaiian Wai Momi, literally "pearl waters," so named for the pearl oysters found there; transferred sense of "effective sudden attack" is attested from 1942 (in reference to Dec. 7, 1941).

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pearl (v.)

late 14c., "to adorn with pearls," from pearl (n.). From 1590s as "to take a rounded form" (intrans.); from c. 1600 as "to make into a form, or cause to assume the form and appearance, of a pearl" (trans.). Related: Pearled; pearling.

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pearly (adj.)

mid-15c., perli, "resembling a pearl or mother-of-pearl," from pearl + -y (2). Related: Pearliness. The pearly gates of Heaven (or the New Jerusalem) are attested by 1708, from Revelation xxi.21.

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mother-of-pearl (n.)

"nacreous inner layer of the shell of various bivalve mollusks," c. 1500, translating Medieval Latin mater perlarum, with the first element perhaps connected in popular imagination with obsolete mother (n.2) "dregs." Compare Italian madreperla, French mère-perle, Dutch parelmoer, German Perlmutter, Danish perlemor. It is the stuff of pearls but in a layer instead of a mass.

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nacre (n.)

1590s, "type of shellfish that yields mother-of-pearl," from French nacre (Old French nacaire, 14c.), from Italian naccaro (now nacchera), possibly from Arabic naqur "hunting horn" (from nakara "to hollow out"), in reference to the shape of the mollusk shell. Meaning "mother-of-pearl" is from 1718. The French adjectival form nacré was applied in English to decorative objects iridescent like mother of pearl (1895).

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margaric (adj.)

"pertaining to or resembling pearl," 1819 (in margaric acid), from French margarique (Chevreul), from Greek margaron, a parallel form to margaritēs "pearl" (see Margaret) + -ic. Obsolete in science but surviving in commercial derivatives.

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Margery 
fem. proper name, from Old French Margerie, related to Late Latin margarita "pearl" (see Margaret).
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Margaret 

fem. proper name (c. 1300), from Old French Margaret (French Marguerite), from Late Latin Margarita, female name, literally "pearl," from Greek margaritēs (lithos) "pearl," which is of unknown origin.

OED writes, "probably adopted from some Oriental language" [OED]. Beekes writes, "An oriental loanword, mostly assumed to be from Iranian" and cites Middle Persian marvarit "pearl." He adds, "The older view" derives it from Sanskrit manjari "pearl; flowering bead," "but the late and rare occurrence of both the Skt. and Greek form is no support for a direct identification." He also reports a suggested origin in Iranian *mrga-ahri-ita- "born from the shell of a bird" = "oyster."

Arabic marjan probably is from Greek, via Syraic marganitha. In Germanic languages the word was widely perverted by folk-etymology, for example Old English meregrot, which has been altered as if it meant literally "sea-pebble." The word was used figuratively in Middle English for "that which is precious or excellent, a priceless quality or attribute." Derk margaryte was "a corrupted conscience."

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orient (n.)

late 14c., "the direction east; the part of the horizon where the sun first appears," also (now with capital O-) "the eastern regions of the world, eastern countries" (originally vaguely meaning the region east and south of Europe, what is now called the Middle East but also sometimes Egypt and India), from Old French orient "east" (11c.), from Latin orientem (nominative oriens) "the rising sun, the east, part of the sky where the sun rises," originally "rising" (adj.), present participle of oriri "to rise" (see origin).

Meaning "a pearl of the first water" is by 1831, short for pearl of the Orient (late 14c.) originally meaning one from the Indian seas. Hence also the meaning "a delicate iridescence, the peculiar luster of a fine pearl" (1755). The Orient Express was a train that ran from Paris to Istanbul via Vienna 1883-1961, from the start it was associated with espionage and intrigue.

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margarite (n.)

"a pearl," late Old English, from Late Latin margarita (see Margaret). Figuratively, "that which is precious or excellent, a priceless quality or attribute;" also used as an epithet for Christ, Mary, etc., late 13c. Also margerie (mid-14c.). Related: Margaritic.

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