Word: opalescent

Pronunciation: oh-pə-LE-sənt

Part of Speech: adjective


  1. showing varying colors as an opal does
  2. showing many small points of shifting color against a pale or dark ground

Source: Oxford Dictionaries

I love colors. Anyone who knows me well can vouch for my nerdy knowledge of colors names, from vermilion to chartreuse to aubergine. I’ve been called out for describing things as “turquoise” or “cerulean” when “blue” would have sufficed, and I probably recognize enough shades of green to write an epic poem about a tree in midsummer. So when I find a word that covers several different colors at once, I almost instantly fall in love with it. “Prismatic”, “harlequin”, “kaleidoscopic”, all are great adjectives for defining different things that are multicolored. But of this list of synonyms, my favorite is probably “opalescent”.

Anything “opalescent” shows a variety of shifting colors. Naturally, it’s easy to recognize the root noun “opal” in this adjective, a reference to the semitransparent gemstone most notable for its varying colors. The very word “opal” can be traced back to different languages like the French noun opale or the Latin noun opalus. Interestingly, these Latin-based words probably originated from the Sanskrit noun upala “precious stone”, as the first samples of these gemstones came from India.

Why do I consider “opalescent” my favorite “multicolored” word? Honestly, I think it has a lot to do with the fact that the opal is my birthstone (for anyone keeping track, its month is October). Maybe it’s for this reason that I’ve always had a fondness for this stone, or maybe it’s simply for its beautiful array of colors that seem to outshine almost every other type of gem. The opal is my favorite precious stone, and for that, I feel that only the loveliest displays of varying color deserve to be described as “opalescent”.

What are your thoughts on this word? Any suggestions for future “Word of the Week” featured words?

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