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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.