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Why are film cameos called cameos? In which sense do they resemble cameo brooches? In both meanings of the word we have a human figure. Are they similar in their brevity of appearance? In their ornamental function? In their silence and hieratic attitude? Or are they comparable in their value (jewels are valuable, famous people are important)?

I have already checked several etymological sources. They differ. I’m looking for your opinion. In what do you think film cameos and cameo brooches are similar? What do you feel is the key element in common?

To try to further clear my question: I’m debating in another (Spanish-language) forum the anglicism “cameo”, which Spaniards use but ignore is related to cameo jewels (“camafeos” in Spanish). To most Spaniards cameo means nothing except cameo films. I’m trying to find out the connotations anglophones bring to their mind when they use the word in the cinematographic sense, connotations that Spaniards are unaware of, to show how in this specific case (not in most others) the adoption of this anglicism is not enriching Spanish language.

But maybe this is not a good question anyway.

share|improve this question
Please check etymonline – Matt E. Эллен Jan 21 '13 at 12:11
@Matt ЭлленI I have edited my question to try and make it more clear and to specify I have already checked etymological sources. – Albertus Jan 21 '13 at 12:35
If you've checked several etymological sources, please let us know what they are along with what they say (and in this question, how they differ). This will cut down on the needless repetition of labour (that appears to have already happened with @J.R.'s answer). – coleopterist Jan 21 '13 at 13:03
@Albertus Please edit your question to include the sources you consulted and why they didn't answer your question. You should always include the results of your research effort for the benefit of others, especially the people who are trying to help you. – MετάEd Jan 21 '13 at 15:06
"To most Spaniards cameo means nothing except cameo films. I’m trying to find out the connotations anglophones bring to their mind when they use the word in the cinematographic sense..." Well, for me, cameo only had meaning as the brief movie appearance. I wasn't aware of its other uses before now. I expect the same for most anglophones too. – Hugo Mar 24 '13 at 10:53

You're on the right track; this is a very good website to check such matters:

cameo (n.) early 15c., kaadmaheu, camew, chamehieux and many other spellings (from early 13c. in Anglo-Latin), "carved precious stone with two layers of colors," from Old French camaieu and directly from Medieval Latin cammaeus, of unknown origin, perhaps ultimately from Arabic qamaa'il "flower buds," or Persian chumahan "agate." Transferred sense of "small character or part that stands out from other minor parts" in a play, etc., is from 1928, from earlier meaning "short literary sketch or portrait" (1851), a transferred sense from cameo silhouettes.

share|improve this answer
Since Spanish doesn't have the "short literary sketch or portrait" meaning, it would be completely baffling to use the same word for "walk-on part" and "portrait jewel" in Spanish. – Peter Shor Jan 21 '13 at 13:18
Maybe more in the nature of a comment? – Kris Jan 23 '13 at 5:27

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