1670s, "wedge shaped," from French cunéiforme (16c.), from Latin cuneus "a wedge, wedge-shaped thing," which is of unknown origin, + French -forme (see form (n.)). Applied to characters in ancient Middle Eastern inscriptions made with wedge-shaped writing tools; first used in this sense by German physician and traveler Engelbert Kämpfer (1681-1716); in English from 1818. As a noun from 1862.
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