Word of the Week (214): JARGOON (probability 17227), by David Sutton

A JARGOON is a kind of gemstone, a brilliant pale or colourless zircon. The name comes from the French jargon, and derives ultimately from Persian zargun, golden.

There seems to be no exact criterion for what qualifies a mineral to be called a gemstone, but colour, clarity and hardness come into it, and rareness is also a factor. Possibly, human nature being what it is, if chalk were to be found in only one place on earth collectors would pay large sums to own a piece of this wonderful white substance laid down aeons ago on the bed of ancient seas.

Gemstones are traditionally classified as precious or semi-precious, the precious ones being diamond, ruby, sapphire and emerald, though this does not necessairly reflect their commercial value: some rare semi-precious stones may actually cost you more than an emerald of the same size.

Most Scrabble players will be acquainted with a good range of gemstones, but here are some that may have escaped your attention.

BALAS (plural BALASES) is a variety of spinel ruby, of a rose red colour.

HELIODOR is a variety of clear yellow beryl found in SW Africa; the name is from the Greek, meaning 'sun gift'.

HYACINE is a Spenserian word for some kind of blue gemstone.

LIGURE is another old word for some kind of gemstone, perhaps the modern JACINTH, a reddish-orange variety of zircon used as a gem.

We all know TURQUOISE, but maybe not all its obsolete variant spellings: TURKIES, TURKIS, TURKOIS and TURQUOIS.

PYROPE (or PYROPUS) is a fiery red variety of GARNET: the name is from the Greek pyropos, meaning 'fire eyed'.

TIGEREYE is a golden-brown gemstone with a silky lustre, belonging to the quartz group.

SCHORL (or SHORL) is a species of TOURMALINE, a boron silicate gemstone, once imported in great quantities from Sri Lanka by the Dutch East India company.


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