"a pearl," late Old English, from Late Latin margarita (see Margaret). Figuratively, "that which is precious or excellent, a priceless quality or attribute;" also used as an epithet for Christ, Mary, etc., late 13c. Also margerie (mid-14c.). Related: Margaritic.
Entries linking to margarite
fem. proper name (c. 1300), from Old French Margaret (French Marguerite), from Late Latin Margarita, female name, literally "pearl," from Greek margaritēs (lithos) "pearl," which is of unknown origin.
OED writes, "probably adopted from some Oriental language" [OED]. Beekes writes, "An oriental loanword, mostly assumed to be from Iranian" and cites Middle Persian marvarit "pearl." He adds, "The older view" derives it from Sanskrit manjari "pearl; flowering bead," "but the late and rare occurrence of both the Skt. and Greek form is no support for a direct identification." He also reports a suggested origin in Iranian *mrga-ahri-ita- "born from the shell of a bird" = "oyster."
Arabic marjan probably is from Greek, via Syraic marganitha. In Germanic languages the word was widely perverted by folk-etymology, for example Old English meregrot, which has been altered as if it meant literally "sea-pebble." The word was used figuratively in Middle English for "that which is precious or excellent, a priceless quality or attribute." Derk margaryte was "a corrupted conscience."
"nacreous mass formed in the shell of a bivalve mollusk as a result of irritation caused by some foreign body," early 14c., perle (mid-13c. as a surname), from Old French perle (13c.) and directly from Medieval Latin perla (mid-13c.), which is of unknown origin. Perhaps from Vulgar Latin *pernula, diminutive of Latin perna, which in Sicily meant "pearl," earlier "sea-mussel," literally "ham, haunch, gammon," so called for the shape of the mollusk shells.
Used from 14c. of anything valuable or of the finest kind; from mid-15c. of something small, round, and glistening white. For pearls before swine, see swine. Pearl Harbor translates Hawaiian Wai Momi, literally "pearl waters," so named for the pearl oysters found there; transferred sense of "effective sudden attack" is attested from 1942 (in reference to Dec. 7, 1941).