marble (n.)

type of crystalline limestone much used in sculpture, monuments, etc., early 14c., by dissimilation from marbra (mid-12c.), from Old French marbre (which itself underwent dissimilation of 2nd -r- to -l- in 14c.; marbre persisted in English into early 15c.), from Latin marmor, from or cognate with Greek marmaros "marble, gleaming stone," of unknown origin, perhaps originally an adjective meaning "sparkling," which would connect it with marmairein "to shine."

Marblestone is attested from c. 1200, and the Latin word was taken directly into Old English as marma. German Marmor is restored Latin from Old High German marmul. Meaning "piece of sculptured or inscribed marble" (especially a marble tomb or tombstone) is from early 14c. Meaning "little ball of marble used in a children's game" is attested from 1690s; see marbles.

marble (adj.)

late 14c., "consisting of marble," from marble (n.). Meaning "mottled like marble" is mid-15c. The earlier adjective in this sense was marbrin (early 14c.). From 1590s as "resembling marble in some figurative quality" (cold, hard, insensible, etc.). Marble cake is attested from 1864.

marble (v.)

1590s (implied in marbled), "to give (something) the veined and clouded appearance of marble," from marble (n.). Of meat with "veins" of fat, from 1770. Of books, "having the end papers or edges colored or stained in a conventional imitation of marble," 1670s. Related: Marbling.

It is done in a trough of water covered by a layer of gum tragacanth mixed with a little ox-gall. The fluid colors are sprinkled or spattered over this layer with a brush in the arrangement intended for use or in a manner which will admit of producing the desired figuration by drawing a brass comb over the surface. The dampened paper, held by the ends, is lightly passed in a curve over this surface, taking up the colors, and finished by sizing and burnishing or calendering. [Century Dictionary, 1895]

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