One of the mysteries of the English language finally explained.
Originally: a member of the imperial family at Constantinople, reputedly born in a purple-hung or porphyry chamber. Later more generally: a child born after his or her father's accession to a throne. More generally: a member of an imperial or royal reigning family; one belonging to the highest or most privileged ranks.
Early 17th century; earliest use found in John Selden (1584–1654), lawyer and historical and linguistic scholar. From post-classical Latin porphyrogenitus (adjective) from Byzantine Greek πορϕυρογέννητος (also πορϕυρογεννήτης) from ancient Greek πορϕυρο- + γεννητός born; apparently so called either because born in a chamber called the Porphyra, or because the emperors customarily wore purple. In some forms partly after French porphyrogénète, adjective and noun.
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