Monday, November 2, 2009
porcelain \ˈpohr-s(ə-)lən\ noun: 1. a hard, fine-grained, sonorous, nonporous and usually translucent and white ceramic ware that consists essentially of kaolin, quartz and a feldspathic rock and is fired at a high temperature
Etymology: Middle French porcelaine cowrie shell, porcelain, from Italian porcellana, from porcello little pig, from Latin porcellus, diminutive of porcus pig
That etymology may give you more questions than answers, so here’s a further explanation. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, “[Porcelain] was apparently so named on account of the resemblance of its translucent surface to the nacreous shell of the [cowrie].” Where does the pig come in? Henry Hitchings clears that up in The Secret Life of Words: “The word [porcelain] comes from the Italian for a cowrie shell; literally, porcellana was a ‘little pig’, and the connection seems grounded in the glossy shell’s resemblance either to a pig’s back or to a sow’s glistening crinkled vagina.” So now you know.