In literature, a stone is a rock with gravitas. A rock is workmanlike, quotidian. (“Upon this rock I will build my church . . .”). A stone is fraught with anthropomorphized depth, a rock seen with metaphoric eyes. (“He rolled away the stone . . .”). In nature, however, a rock is a naturally formed aggregate or compact mass of mineral materials; these may or may not be “coherent”—in other words, a rock can be a small anthology of geological matter. A stone, in contrast, is a concentrated piece of earthy or mineral material, often defined as a section of a rock. If you get a piece of the rock, you have a stone in your pocket. Large masses of stone are called rocks. These can be quite large—promontories and cliffs, peaks and boulders, are all rocks. (Uluru—Ayers Rock—is a mega-example.) Stones achieve true gravitas when they are gems—it is not just slang that makes diamonds “precious stones.” We elevate the stone in our culture: corner stone, gravestone, etched in stone. (Trivia note: The Rocky Mountains used to be known as the Stony Mountains.) A rock is solid and stolid, forever dependable as an essential part of the Earth’s crust; a stone is a mineral metaphor, forever turning in the human mind, bearing “meaning” on its facets. Perhaps this is what moved Mexican poet Octavio Paz to write, “What is not stone/is light.”

Luis Alberto Urrea