The word opera first started showing up in English contexts as a borrowed Italian word in 1648, and the first use of the Italian word in reference to the musical genre was in 1639. This is pretty interesting because the first opera is generally acknowledged to be Jacopo Peri's Dafne, which came out in 1597—so people didn't have a term for the type of composition for over forty years. Originally, the word meant "work" or "labor" in Italian, which seems a little weird until you think about how we talk about musical works and composers' magnum opuses (magnum opera in Latin). As I may have just revealed, opera comes from the Latin noun opus, also meaning "work". Finally, that's from the Proto-Indo-European root op, which meant "to work" and also forms parts of words like oeuvre, office, optimism, opulent, and cooperate.
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Hello! I'm Adam Aleksic, a senior studying government and linguistics at Harvard University, where I co-founded the Harvard Undergraduate Linguistics Society. In addition to etymology, I also really enjoy trivia, politics, vexillology, geography, board games, conlanging, art history, and law.