dark, hard wood favored for carving, musical instruments, etc., 1590s, perhaps an extended form of Middle English ebon, or from hebenyf (late 14c.), perhaps a Middle English misreading of Latin hebeninus "of ebony," from Greek ebeninos, from ebenos "ebony," probably from Egyptian hbnj or another Semitic source. Figurative use to suggest intense blackness is from 1620s. As an adjective, "of ebony, made of ebony," from 1590s; in reference to skin color of Africans, by 1813. French ébène, Old High German ebenus (German Ebenholz) are from Latin ebenus.
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