I have occasionally run across the word majolica but never had anything but the vaguest idea of its meaning (some kind of porcelain?); now, having run across it again in Abulafia’s The Great Sea, I’ve looked it up again and discovered that there are two words, or two variants of one word, with two slightly different meanings, neither of which I’ll remember five minutes after I post this, but I’ll pass it along for the general enlightenment and/or confusion. Merriam-Webster says:
ma·jol·i·ca \mə-ˈjä-li-kə\ also ma·iol·i·ca \mə-ˈyä-li-kə\ [Italian maiolica, from Old Italian Maiolica, Maiorica Majorca] 1 : earthenware covered with an opaque tin glaze and decorated on the glaze before firing; esp : an Italian ware of this kind 2 : a 19th century earthenware modeled in naturalistic shapes and glazed in lively colors
I must have known at some point that the word was from the name of the island Majorca, but I’d forgotten. The interesting thing is that the OED (in an entry updated in 2000) gives both pronunciations (in their system, /məˈdʒɒlᵻkə/ and /məˈjɒlᵻkə/) for the entry majolica, which seems bizarre; the first definition is “= maiolica n.” [“A fine kind of Renaissance Italian earthenware with coloured decoration on an opaque white tin glaze; (more generally) any tin-glazed earthenware in the same stylistic tradition, esp. Hispano-Moresque lustreware. Also: any of various other kinds of glazed and ornamented Italian ware (also called faience and Raphael ware)”] and the main definition of this spelling (sense 3) is “A type of 19th-cent. earthenware with coloured decoration on an opaque white tin (or sometimes lead) glaze, of vaguely Renaissance inspiration; (also) the technique of painting on to unfired opaque white glaze.” The etymology gives the following mind-boggling detail about spelling and pronunciation (bear in mind that their /j/ represents the y sound):
During the 19th cent. majolica was the predominant spelling, with j pronounced /dʒ/ , although maiolica also occurs (see maiolica n.). Cent. Dict. (1890) added an ‘Italian pronunciation’ with /j/ , while N.E.D. (1904) and Webster (1909) gave alternative naturalized pronunciations, with /dʒ/ and /j/ . The /j/ spelling, though not uncommon, became less frequent than the /i/ spelling during the 20th cent. in British use in sense 1, the spelling maiolica freq. being used in sense 1 (especially by art historians) contrastively with majolica in sense 3; U.S. dictionaries, however, still record the /j/ spelling and corresponding pronunciation with /dʒ/ as commoner (compare French, in which the spelling maïolique is in the late 20th cent. much less common than majolique, with corresponding pronunciation with /ʒ/ ; for the /j/ spelling compare also German Majolika, Dutch majolica).
Thank god I’m not going to be tested on any of this.