One of the mysteries of the English language finally explained.
Originally: †any of various sessile marine invertebrates, mainly soft corals and sponges (obsolete). In later use: specifically an alcyonarian coral of the genus Alcyonium, colonies of which form irregular fleshy masses on rocks and stones; especially the well-known dead men's fingers, A. digitatum, of the north-east Atlantic; (also in form Alcyonium) the genus itself.
Early 17th century; earliest use found in Edward Topsell (d. 1625), Church of England clergyman and author. From classical Latin alcyonīum (also alcyonēum), a kind of sponge (later adopted into scientific Latin as genus name Alcyonium by Linnaeus Systema naturae (ed. 10, 1758) I. 803) from Hellenistic Greek ἀλκυόνιον, ancient Greek ἀλκυόνειον from ἀλκυών + -ειον, suffix forming nouns; so called according to Dioscorides from its supposed resemblance to the mythical halcyon's nest.
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