Etymology of Plasma

“Some people,” Miss R said, “run to conceits or wisdom but I hold to the hard, brown, nutlike word. I might point out that there is enough aesthetic excitement here to satisfy anyone but a damned fool.”

–Donald Barthelme, “The Indian Uprising.”

Case in point: The word “plasma.” According to the OED, its meaning in classical Latin was an “affected modulation of the voice.” In post-classical Latin it also meant “creature” and “poetic fiction.”

In English, originally, it meant a pot. Or “anything shaped or molded.” Later, long before it came to be associated with blood or the breath of the sun, it also meant in English “a green variety of chalcedony,  valued as a semi-precious stone, and formerly used for carving into intaglios.” In this sense it was short for plasma emerald.

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