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Pearls (1)


From Old French perle of uncertain etymology. Probably via unattested Medieval Latin *pernula from Latin perna (haunch; a marine bivalve shaped like a leg of lamb)[1] but also derived from Medieval Latin perla, from Latin perula (little bag). Its typographic use follows the name given by Jean Jannon to the type used in his miniature editions of Vergil, Horace, & the New Testament in the 1620s, which were the smallest printed works to his time. Its surfing use derives from the supposed resemblance to pearl diving.



pearl (countable and uncountable, plural pearls)

  1. A shelly concretion, usually rounded, and having a brilliant luster, with varying tints, found in the mantle, or between the mantle and shell, of certain bivalve mollusks, especially in the pearl oysters and river mussels, and sometimes in certain univalves. It is usually due to a secretion of shelly substance around some irritating foreign particle. Its substance is the same as nacre, or mother-of-pearl. Round lustrous pearls are used in jewellery.
  2. (figuratively) Something precious.
    • Shakespeare
      I see thee compassed with thy kingdom's pearl.
    • 1920, Herman Cyril McNeile, Bulldog Drummond Chapter 1
      Hugh helped himself to bacon. "My dear fellow, she can think what she likes so long as she continues to grill bacon like this. Your wife is a treasure, James—a pearl amongst women; and you can tell her so with my love."
  3. A capsule of gelatin or similar substance containing liquid for e.g. medicinal application.
  4. Nacre, or mother-of-pearl.
  5. A whitish speck or film on the eye.
    (Can we find and add a quotation of Milton to this entry?)
  6. A fish allied to the turbot; the brill.
  7. A light-colored tern.
  8. One of the circle of tubercles which form the bur on a deer's antler.
  9. (uncountable, typography, printing, dated) The size of type between diamond and agate, standardized as 5-point.
  10. A fringe or border.
  11. (obsolete) A jewel or gem.
    • Douay Rheims 1635 - Proverbs 20:15
      There is gold, and multitude of pearles: but a precious vessel the lips of knowledge.

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pearl (third-person singular simple present pearls, present participle pearling, simple past and past participle pearled)

  1. (also figuratively) To set or adorn with pearls, or with mother-of-pearl
  2. To cause to resemble pearls; to make into small round grains
    to pearl barley
  3. To resemble pearl or pearls.
  4. To give or hunt for pearls
    to go pearling
  5. (surfing) to dig the nose of one's surfboard into the water, often on takeoff.
    • 1999, Joanne VanMeter [1]:
      Used a pointed tip today and learned why I kept pearling with my round tipped board. Round noses like to dig into the water, causing frustrating wipeouts.

Derived termsEdit


  1. ^ Oxford English Dictionary, 3rd ed. "pearl, n.1". Oxford University Press (Oxford), 2005.