I was shocked to find that the word ebony (describing a specific kind of dark wood, but colloquially synonymous with "black") does not have Indo-European origins. The closest relative to this now-English word is ebon, which was present in Middle English and only pertained to the tree. This is actually a misspelled word from Latin; some asinine "scholar" somewhere totally butchered the word hebeninus, which is what the Romans used to talk about anything concerning the ebony wood. This probably came from a much earlier Greek word, ebininos, itself stemming from ebenos, with the aforementioned definition. This is curious because the mistake by the scholar actually comes closer to the Greek word than the Latin one. We are, however, going to add the letter h one more time, while going back even further... to Egyptian! I couldn't find any dates on when this transition happened, but the Greeks and Egyptians interacted a lot (especially due to Alexander the Great), so once you get over the initial etymological surprise, it kind of makes sense. Anyway, in Egyptian the word was something like hbny or hbnj (no vowels). This probably has some kind of Semitic origin, but nobody's exactly sure what.
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.