c. 1200, "vessel containing flammable liquid and a wick to lift it by capillary action when lit," from Old French lampe "lamp, lights" (12c.), from Latin lampas "a light, torch, flambeau," from Greek lampas "a torch, oil-lamp, beacon-light, light," from lampein "to shine," perhaps from a nasalized form of PIE root *lehp- "to light, glow" (source also of Lithuanian lopė "light," Hittite lappzi "to glow, flash," Old Irish lassar "flame," Welsh llachar "glow").
Replaced Old English leohtfæt "light vessel." From 19c. in reference to gas and later electric lamps. To smell of the lamp "be a product of laborious night study," said disparagingly of a literary work, is attested from 1570s (compare midnight oil). The Greek stem lampad- formed a number of compounds, some in English, such as lampadomancy (1650s) "divination from variations in the flame of a lamp."
updated on January 30, 2018