The English word "dome" ultimately derives from the Latin domus ("house")—which, up through the Renaissance, labeled a revered house, such as a Domus Dei, or "House of God", regardless of the shape of its roof.
This is reflected in the uses of the Italian word duomo, the German/Icelandic/Danish word dom ("cathedral"), and the English word dome as late as 1656, when it meant a "Town-House, Guild-Hall, State-House, and Meeting-House in a city." The French word dosme came to acquire the meaning of a cupola vault, specifically, by 1660.
Domes have been found from early Mesopotamia, which may explain the form's spread.
They are found in Persian, Hellenistic, Roman, and Chinese architecture in the Ancient world, as well as among a number of contemporary indigenous building traditions.
The outward thrusts in the lower portion of a hemispherical masonry dome can be counteracted with the use of chains incorporated around the circumference or with external buttressing, although cracking along the meridians is natural.
For small or tall domes with less horizontal thrust, the thickness of the supporting arches or walls can be enough to resist deformation, which is why drums tend to be much thicker than the domes they support.
There are also a wide variety of forms and specialized terms to describe them.
The precise definition of "pendentive" has been a source of contention among academics, including whether or not corbelling is permitted under the definition and whether or not the lower portions of a sail vault should be considered pendentives.
Although this can complement music, it may make speech less intelligible, leading Francesco Giorgi in 1535 to recommend vaulted ceilings for the choir areas of a church, but a flat ceiling filled with as many coffers as possible for where preaching would occur.
This French definition gradually became the standard usage of the English dome in the eighteenth century as many of the most impressive Houses of God were built with monumental domes, and in response to the scientific need for more technical terms.
The terminology used has been a source of controversy, with inconsistency between scholars and even within individual texts, but the term "dome" may be considered a "blanket-word to describe an hemispherical or similar spanning element." A half-dome or semi-dome is a semi-circular shape often used, especially in apses.