serpentine (n.)

c. 1400, name of a plant reputed to contain antivenom, often identified as dragonwort, from Old French serpentin name of a precious stone, a noun use of adjective meaning "of a snake, snake-like; sly, deceptive," from Late Latin serpentius "of a serpent," from Latin serpentem (nominative serpens) "snake" (see serpent). Also in some instances from Medieval Latin serpentina. From mid-15c. as the name of a kind of cannon used 15c.-16c.

As the name of a greenish metamorphic rock consisting mainly of hydrous magnesium silicate, it is attested in English is by c. 1600, perhaps based on Agricola's Lapis Serpentinus (16c.). Earlier references in English are to a precious or semiprecious stone thought to have magical powers (early 15c.) but these were perhaps from the translucent ("noble") form of the mineral. The name is perhaps in reference to the rock's green color, though some sources write of "markings resembling those of serpent's skin" or "similarity of the texture of the rock to that of the skin of a snake."

An ancient name for the rock is said to be hydrinus, perhaps suggesting connection to the sea-serpent hydra. It also has been identified with classical ophitēs, a ornamental building-stone mentioned by several writers, related to ophis "serpent, a snake" (see ophio-), but this is uncertain: Pliny said it has marking like a snake, but he included it among the marbles.

serpentine (adj.)

"twisting, winding about, resembling the motion of a serpent," 1610s; see serpent + -ine (1). An earlier adjective meaning "having the evil qualities of a serpent" (subtle, cunning, treacherous) is recorded from late 14c., from Old French serpentin (see serpentine (n.)). The meaning "of, pertaining to, or resembling a serpent" is from c. 1500. The winding lake of that name in Hyde Park, London, was constructed in 1730.

updated on May 29, 2022