general name for the hard, calcareous skeleton excreted by certain marine polyps, c. 1300, from Old French coral (12c., Modern French corail), from Latin corallium, from Greek korallion, a word perhaps of Semitic origin (compare Hebrew goral "small pebble," Arabic garal "small stone").
Originally especially the red variety found in the Mediterranean, used ornamentally, hence "red, the (red) color of coral" (mid-15c.). As an adjective, "made of coral," mid-15c. The coral-snake (1760) is so called for the red zones in its markings. Coral-reef is attested from 1745 (see reef (n.1)).
1630s, "reddish, pinkish red," from Late Latin corallinus "coral-red," from corallum (see coral). Meaning "consisting of or containing coral" is from 1650s.
chain of coral islands in the Indian Ocean, probably from Sanskrit maladvipa "garland of islands," from mala "garland" + dvipa "island." Related: Maldivian.
"low, narrow rock ridge underwater," 1580s, riffe, probably via Dutch riffe, from a Scandinavian source such as Old Norse rif "ridge in the sea; reef in a sail," literally "rib" (see rib (n.)). Also extended to the low islands formed by coral debris or to any extensive elevation of the bottom of the sea.