General English

Origin & History of “jade”

English has two words jade, of which by far the commoner nowadays is the name of the green stone (18th c.). Despite the mineral’s close association with China and japan, the term has no Oriental connections. It is of Latin origin, and started life in fact as a description of the stone’s medical applications. Latin īlia denoted the ‘sides of the lower torso’, the ‘flanks’, the part of the body where the kidneys are situated (English gets iliac (16th c.) from it). In vulgar Latin this became *iliata, which passed into Spanish as ijada. Now it was thought in former times that jade could cure pain in the renal area, so the Spanish called it piedra de ijada, literally ‘stone of the flanks’. In due course this was reduced to simply ijada, which passed into English via French. (Jade’s alternative name, nephrite (18th c.), is based on the same idea; it comes from Greek nephrós ‘kidney’.)

English’s other word jade (14th c.) now survives really only in its derivative adjective jaded ‘tired, sated’ (16th c.). It originally meant ‘worn-out horse’, and was later transferred metaphorically to ‘disreputable woman’. Its origins are not known.