Definitions

from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 5th Edition.

  • noun A gem or shell carved in relief, especially one in which the raised design and the background consist of layers of contrasting colors.
  • noun The technique of carving in this way.
  • noun A medallion with a profile cut in raised relief.
  • noun A brief vivid portrayal or depiction.
  • noun A brief appearance of a prominent actor or celebrity, as in a single scene of a motion picture.
  • intransitive verb To make into or like a gem or shell carved in relief.
  • intransitive verb To portray in sharp, delicate relief, as in a literary composition.
  • intransitive verb To make a brief appearance, as in a film.

from The Century Dictionary.

  • noun An engraving in relief upon a gem, a hard stone of moderate size, or a similar material, or the object itself so engraved, as distinguished from an intaglio; specifically, such an engraving upon a stone or a shell having two or three layers differing in color, such as an onyx, agate, etc., and so treated as to utilize the effect of the variety of coloring.
  • noun Hence Raised or anaglyphic work in art on a miniature scale; specifically, the art of engraving small figures in relief: opposed to intaglio: as, a stone or shell cut in cameo; a vase ornamented in cameo.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English.

  • noun A carving in relief, esp. one on a small scale used as a jewel for personal adornment, or like.
  • noun (Zoöl.) a large, marine, univalve shell, esp. Cassis cameo, Cassis rua, and allied species, used for cutting cameos. See Quern conch.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.

  • noun A piece of jewelry, etc., carved in relief.
  • noun A single very brief appearance by a prominent celebrity in a movie or song.
  • verb To appear in a cameo role.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • noun engraving or carving in low relief on a stone (as in a brooch or ring)

Etymologies

from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

[Italian cameo and Middle English cameu (from Old French camaieu and Medieval Latin camahūtus).]

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

From Italian cammeo. The movie sense is short for “cameo role” referring to a famous person who was playing no character, but him or herself. Like a cameo brooch — a low-relief carving of a person’s head or bust — the actor or celebrity is instantly recognizable. More recently, it has come to refer to any short appearances, whether as a character or as oneself.

Examples

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