Bill Casselman

As turquoise shone bluely like a robin’s egg, greenly like tropical shallows, through centuries, through millennia, this ornamental gemstone whose finest grades are still treasured, had many English spellings. But one French form won out, la pierre turquoise “the Turkish stone.”

On his TV travel show, Rick Steves, true to his indolent, mispronounced, sloppy and linguistically ignorant research, tells gullible viewers that turquoise meaning “Turkish” arose when French visitors first saw the deep blues of interior tiles at The Blue Mosque in Istanbul. No, little Ricky, believer of folktales, you are wrong, Backpack Breath. Turquoise the color entered European languages well before you claim.

Sold in Turkey, yes; first brought back to Europe by medieval Venetian gem merchants shopping in Byzantine bazaars, yes. But the traditional and chief point of supply of turquoise were mines in the Nishapur district of Iran, once called Persia, where the gem has been mined for more than 2,000 years. Thus one will see it as “the Persian gem” offered by legitimate jewellers. An alleyway peddler of dubious probity may whisper from his shadowed burnoose, “Effendi, look, gaze, Persian blue turquoise. Sooo beautiful. This particular gem is known to the connoisseur as “The Blessed Eye of Allah.” But I can let you have it for a mere thirty-five thousand dollars. American, of course, Effendi.”

In a base physical description, turquoise is of course a chemical, an hydrous phosphate of copper and aluminum whose formula is CuAl6(PO4)4(OH)8·5H2). Turquoise’s only important use is in the manufacture of jewelry and ornamental objects. Copper gives the mineral a blue coloring; iron a greenish turquoise, and zinc a yellow hue.

Website color pickers know turquoise as a color command for fonts.

There is an Arabic proverb too: “A turquoise given by a loving hand carries with it happiness and good fortune.”


It is one of several gem words that sound well on the pronouncing tongue, especially accompanied by a rich scroll of other precious stones, i.e. “of amethyst and turquoise, chalcedony and jasper, of amber and of opal, all met in the jewel-box of Earth.”


Bill Casselman copyright 2016

August 25, 2016

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