Monday, December 5, 2011

Word of the Week - Cameo

I can't tell you how much time I spent chasing rabbits down trails (literarily speaking) for a one-line mention in my books. Like, did they have bells over the doors in 18th century New York? Hard to discover.

This last week, one of my random questions was, thankfully, easily answered. I wanted a character to mention a cameo necklace, which I was pretty darn sure were around and popular by the 1860s, but I've been wrong before. So I looked it up.

I was pleased to see that cameo, by which I mean a carved stone with two layers of color, has been around since the 16th century. Cameos maintained a steady popularity for centuries--Elizabeth I had a sizable collection, as did Catherine the Great. And since Queen Victoria favored them, they even stuck around during the fast-changing fashion of the 19th century.

In 1851 the word was attributed to "a short literary sketch or portrait." Very much related to the pendant, which commonly depict a bust or figure (though not always). And so this sense was also transferred to the stage/film in 1928, when it came to mean "a brief role that stands out from other minor parts in a performance."

I have a cameo necklace I inherited from my great-grandmother, and I love it. =) There's something so very romantic about those treasures from times past . . .


  1. Fascinating! I had NO idea the carved stone and "quick role" in a movie/TV were related. I just assumed they came from different roots. Thanks, Roseanna.

  2. An object grows exceedingly precious as we understand and value its provenance. The cameo necklace you own is lovely yet rendered more a treasure because you know the narrative of its history and the person to whom it once belonged.
    Thus your book, Jewel of Persia and your other works, grow in significance due to the connection to historic events and people. Your creative gifts bring us into meaningful relationship with people of the past and with one another today.

    Mark W. McIntire