chro·​mis ˈkrō-məs How to pronounce chromis (audio)
plural chromis
: any of a large genus (Chromis) of damselfish including some commonly kept in tropical aquariums
You'll never be able to count all the brown and blue chromis swimming over your head.Nick Lucey
We then part a school of brilliant blue chromis fish darting about in pursuit of tiny planktonic prey.Joseph E. Neigel and John C. Avise

Word History


borrowed from New Latin, genus name, earlier a specific epithet (Sparus chromis), going back to Latin, name for a fish of the family Sciaenidae (as Umbrina cirrosa or Sciaena umbra), borrowed from Greek chrómis, noun derivative, with o-ablaut, from the base of chremetízein "to whinny, neigh," alluding to the sounds such fish produced by beating stomach muscles against the swim bladder — more at grim

Note: The semantic range of the Greek base chrem-/chrom- exemplified by chremetízein was presumably broader than "whinny, neigh," which does not describe the sound produced by the fish; cf. in the Iliad, the derivative chrómados alluding to the grinding jaws of two men in a boxing match (23, 688), and the etymology of grim. The taxon Chromis was introduced as a genus name by Georges cuvier in "VIe Mémoire. Sur le Petit Castagneau," Bulletin des Sciences, par la Société Philomatique de Paris, Année 1814, pp. 88-89. Cuvier based the renaming on Linnaeus's Saurus chromis, described in Systema naturae, 1758, v. 1, p. 280. Linnaeus, in turn, based the association of the name with the Mediterranean damselfish (later Chromis chromis) ultimately on the French naturalist Guillaume Rondelet's Libri de piscibus marinis (Lyon, 1554), pp. 152-53. Why Rondelet (and apparently Pliny before him) misidentified Greek chrómis as a damselfish is the subject of a detailed article by Andrea Guasparri ("Greek khrómis between sound and smell. Anthropozoology of a fish," Anthropozoologica, vol. 51, no. 2 [2016], pp. 105-13).

First Known Use

1854, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of chromis was in 1854

Dictionary Entries Near chromis

Cite this Entry

“Chromis.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 27 May. 2024.

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