late 14c., phenicienes (plural), "native or inhabitant of the ancient country of Phoenicia" on the coast of Syria, from Old French phenicien or formed from Latin Phoenice, Phoenices, on the model of Persian, etc. The Latin word is from Greek Phoinike "Phoenicia" (including its colony Carthage), which is perhaps of Pre-Greek origin [Beekes].
Compare phoenix, which seems to be unrelated. Greek phoinix also meant "(the color) purple," perhaps "the Phoenician color," because the Greeks obtained purple dyes from the Phoenicians, but scholars disagree about this (Greek also had phoinos "red, blood red," which is of uncertain etymology). Greek phoinix was also "palm-tree," especially "the date," fruit and tree, probably literally "the Phoenician (tree)," because the palm originated in the East and the Greeks traded with the Phoenicians for dates. It also was the name of a stringed instrument, probably also a reference to a Phoenician origin.
In reference to the Semitic language spoken by the people, from 1836; as an adjective, from c. 1600.
updated on May 23, 2020