Etymology
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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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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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mother (n.1)

"female parent, a woman in relation to her child," Middle English moder, from Old English modor, from Proto-Germanic *mōdēr (source also of Old Saxon modar, Old Frisian moder, Old Norse moðir, Danish moder, Dutch moeder, Old High German muoter, German Mutter), from PIE *mater- "mother" (source also of Latin māter, Old Irish mathir, Lithuanian motė, Sanskrit matar-, Greek mētēr, Old Church Slavonic mati), "[b]ased ultimately on the baby-talk form *mā- (2); with the kinship term suffix *-ter-" [Watkins]. Spelling with -th- dates from early 16c., though that pronunciation is probably older (see father (n.)).

Sense of "that which has given birth to anything" is from late Old English; as a familiar term of address to an elderly woman, especially of the lower class, by c. 1200.

Mother Nature as a personification is attested from c. 1600; mother earth as an expression of the earth as the giver of life is from 1580s. Mother tongue "one's native language" is attested from late 14c. Mother country "a country in relation to its colonies" is from 1580s. Mother-love "such affection as is shown by a mother" is by 1854. Mother-wit "native wit, common sense" is from mid-15c.

Mother of all ________ (1991), is Gulf War slang, from Saddam Hussein's use in reference to the coming battle; it is an Arabic idiom (as well as an English one), for instance Ayesha, second wife of Muhammad, is known as Mother of Believers; the figure is attested in English in 19c. (Virginia is called mother of commonwealths from 1849). Mother Carey's chickens is late 18c. sailors' nickname for storm petrels, or for snowflakes.

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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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mother (v.)

early 15c., intransitive, "be a mother;" 1540s, transitive, "to be the mother of;" from mother (n.1). Meaning "to take care of act as a mother to" is from 1863. Related: Mothered; mothering.

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mother (n.2)

"a thick substance concreting in liquors; the lees or scum concreted" [Johnson], 1530s, probably from Middle Dutch modder "filth, dregs," from PIE *meu- (see mud).

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mother-ship (n.)

"large ship or craft escorting or having charge of a number of other, usually smaller, craft," 1890, from mother (n.1) + ship (n.).

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Mother Goose 
probably a translation of mid-17c. French contes de ma mère l'oye, which meant "fairy tales." The phrase appeared on the frontispiece of Charles Perrault's 1697 collection of eight fairy tales ("Contes du Temps Passé"), which was translated in English 1729 as "Mother Goose's Tales", and a very popular collection of traditional nursery rhymes published by John Newbery c. 1765 was called "Mother Goose's Melody." Her own biographical story is no earlier than 1806.
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mother lode 

"important vein of an ore or mineral in rock," 1849, from mother (n.1) + lode (n.); said to be a translation of Mexican Spanish veta madre, a name given to rich silver veins. The American use is first in reference to a conspicuous vein of quartz rich in gold discovered during the gold rush in the Sierra Nevada of California. The colloquial or figurative sense of "richest source of something" is by 1916.

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Mother Hubbard 

in reference to a kind of loose, full gown worn by women, 1878, from Old Mother Hubbard, nursery rhyme, which was printed 1805, written by Sarah Catherine Martin (1768-1826) but based on earlier material of unknown origin. The name is attested from 1591.

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