Gneiss is one of those words that I have a hard time not making jokes about.

I’m in the midst of labeling my photos from a 2014 trip to the British Museum. In most cases, I took a photo of a piece of art and then took a photo of the nearby explanatory card, but in a few cases, I skipped the art and only photographed the text. In particular, I just came across a photo of an info card that says:

Gneiss sphinx of Ammenemes IV

Turns out it’s nearly impossible for me to read that text without thinking something like Gneiss sphinx you got there. Wouldn’t want something to … happen to it.

Anyway, that got me wondering about the etymology of gneiss; turns out it’s from German. Its lineage includes Middle High German gneiste, meaning “spark,” and it’s related to Old English fȳrgnāst, also meaning “spark.” Fȳrgnāst! What a great word. It sounds to me like the name of a Norse frost giant or something. …Yeah, okay, I suppose it would be more appropriate for a fire giant.

(Surprisingly, gneiste doesn’t appear to be related to ignite, reminding me again that etymology by sound is not sound etymology.)

While I’m here, I might as well mention that Wikipedia tells me that orthogneiss is “gneiss derived from igneous rock.” As in:

…To say that for destruction ice

Is orthogneiss

And would suffice.

(Hmm. That would’ve been funnier if I hadn’t misremembered the original line; turns out that it’s “Is also great,” not “Is also nice.” Oh, well.)

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