CLOSE
Original image
iStock

The Fascinating Origins of 12 Beautiful Flower Names

Original image
iStock

With spring in bloom, let’s stop and smell the etymological roses. Here are the origins behind the names of 12 of the loveliest flowers.

1. ANEMONE

The anemone is also known as the windflower. Indeed, the word anemone, first attested in English in the mid-1500s, probably comes from a Greek word literally meaning “daughter of the wind.” It's said that the brightly colored petals of this flower only opened when the wind blew. Sea anemones took their names in the late 1700s on their likeness to the flowers.

2. AMARYLLIS

In the pastoral poems of Theocritus, Ovid, and Virgil, Amaryllis was a common name for a beautiful country girl. Carl Linnaeus, the father of modern taxonomy, adopted Amaryllis for this flower family in the late 1700s. The name Amaryllis may derive from a Greek verb meaning to “sparkle” or “shine,” fitting for the rich red veins that pop out from the long white petals of these flowers.

3. CARNATION

There are two etymologies for carnation, a term found in English in the early 1500s. According to one, carnation may be a corruption of coronation, perhaps because the flower’s toothed petals resembled crowns or because the flowers were worn, crown-like, as garlands. The second etymology comes from the flower’s original color, and roots carnation in the Middle French carnation, “pink complexion,” from the Latin root caro, “flesh,” source of less delicate words like carnal and carnage.

4. CHRYSANTHEMUM

True to their etymology, chrysanthemums often bloom in striking gold. The word chrysanthemum, emerging in English in the late 1500s, comes from the Greek krysanthemon, meaning “gold flower.” The first component, krysos (“gold”), shows up in the biological term chrysalis. The second, anthos (“flower”), appears, among other words, in anthology, literally “a collection of flowers,” first used for a compilation of small poems in the early 1600s. Chrysanthemums also answer to mums, a shortening evidenced in the history of the word since the late 1800s.

5. DAISY

The word daisy has deep roots in the English language. As attested to in some of English’s earliest records, daisy comes from the Old English phrase dægesege: the “day’s eye,” as the flower’s white petals close at dusk and open at dawn, like the eye of the day as it sleeps and wakes.

6. FORGET-ME-NOT

The name forget-me-not was a direct translation from the Old French ne m’oubliez mye (“do not forget me”). Renaissance romantics believed that, if they wore these soft-colored flowers, they would never be forgotten by their lovers, making the flower a symbol of fidelity and everlasting love. Other languages also translated ne m’oubliez mye: For this flower, German has Vergissmeinnicht, Swedish has förgätmigej, and Czech has nezabudka.

7. LUPINES

The tall, tapering blue clusters of lupines certainly don’t look like their etymology: lupinus, a Latin adjective for “wolf.” So why the fierce name? Perhaps the flowers were once thought to deplete the ground in which they grow, devouring its nutrients like a wolf. This is likely folk etymology, though, as lupines actually enrich the soil and have long been harvested for their nutritious seeds.

8. ORCHID

Orchids are a diverse family of extremely elegant flowers, but the literal meaning of their name, documented in English in the early 1840s, is a bit earthier, shall we say. Orchid comes from the Greek orkhis, meaning “testicle.” The flower's bulbous roots, often paired, have long been thought to resemble those male organs.

9. PEONY

The peony, a word found in Old English, was believed to have healing properties in early medicine, which is why its name might honor Paion, the physician of the gods in Greek mythology. The name Paion might come from a root Greek verb meaning “touch,” hence “one who touches,” hence “heals.” His name also gives us paean, “a song of praise,” as Paion became identified with Apollo, Greek god of music and poetry.

10. RHODODENDRON

Like many other flower names, rhododendron enters the English record in the mid-1500s. The name literally means “rose tree” in Greek (rhodon means and is related to the word “rose”). It’s an apt name, for this shrub or small tree blooms with brilliant, rose-colored flowers. After Latin grafted the word, rhododendron took another path, its rs and ds eventually arranged into the name of another blossoming plant: oleander.

11. TULIP

Contrary to the grade-school groaner, tulip does not come from the fact that the flower can look like two lips kissing. Passing into English via Dutch or German in the late 1500s, tulip actually comes from the Turkish tülbent, based on the Persian dulband: “turban.” The flower, to its ancient namers, resembled the male headwear worn throughout the Middle East, India, and parts of Africa. The word turban also comes from this Persian dulband.

12. VIOLET

Before we had the color violet, recorded by the late 1300s, we had the flower violet, emerging some decades earlier in the same century. Violet grows out of the French violete or violette, a diminutive of viole, in turn the Latin viola, its name for this distinctively purple flower. This viola has no etymological relationship to the instrument. Some scholars suspect Latin got viola from the Greek name for the plant, ion, also with no etymological relationship to the molecule. Greek “floral” ion, though, does show up in chemistry. The name of the element iodine was ultimately coined from the Greek ioeides, “violet-colored,” because the substance emits a violet-colored vapor.

Original image
Rebecca O'Connell
arrow
Words
What's the Longest Word in the World? Here are 12 of Them, By Category
Original image
Rebecca O'Connell

Antidisestablishmentarianism, everyone’s favorite agglutinative, entered the pop culture lexicon on August 17, 1955, when Gloria Lockerman, a 12-year-old girl from Baltimore, correctly spelled it on The $64,000 Question as millions of people watched from their living rooms. At 28 letters, the word—which is defined as a 19th-century British political movement that opposes proposals for the disestablishment of the Church of England—is still regarded as the longest non-medical, non-coined, nontechnical word in the English language, yet it keeps some robust company. Here are some examples of the longest words by category.

1. METHIONYLTHREONYLTHREONYGLUTAMINYLARGINYL … ISOLEUCINE 

Note the ellipses. All told, the full chemical name for the human protein titin is 189,819 letters, and takes about three-and-a-half hours to pronounce. The problem with including chemical names is that there’s essentially no limit to how long they can be. For example, naming a single strand of DNA, with its millions and millions of repeating base pairs, could eventually tab out at well over 1 billion letters.

2. LOPADOTEMACHOSELACHOGALEOKRANIOLEIPSAN …P TERYGON

The longest word ever to appear in literature comes from Aristophanes’ play, Assemblywomen, published in 391 BC. The Greek word tallies 171 letters, but translates to 183 in English. This mouthful refers to a fictional fricassee comprised of rotted dogfish head, wrasse, wood pigeon, and the roasted head of a dabchick, among other culinary morsels. 

3. PNEUMONOULTRAMICROSCOPICSILICOVOLCANOCONIOSIS

At 45 letters, this is the longest word you’ll find in a major dictionary. An inflated version of silicosis, this is the full scientific name for a disease that causes inflammation in the lungs owing to the inhalation of very fine silica dust. Despite its inclusion in the dictionary, it’s generally considered superfluous, having been coined simply to claim the title of the longest English word.

4. PARASTRATIOSPHECOMYIA STRATIOSPHECOMYIOIDES 

The longest accepted binomial construction, at 42 letters, is a species of soldier fly native to Thailand. With a lifespan of five to eight days, it’s unlikely one has ever survived long enough to hear it pronounced correctly.

5. PSEUDOPSEUDOHYPOPARATHYROIDISM

This 30-letter thyroid disorder is the longest non-coined word to appear in a major dictionary.

6. FLOCCINAUCINIHILIPILIFICATION

By virtue of having one more letter than antidisestablishmentarianism, this is the longest non-technical English word. A mash-up of five Latin roots, it refers to the act of describing something as having little or no value. While it made the cut in the Oxford English Dictionary, Merriam-Webster volumes refuse to recognize it, chalking up its existence to little more than linguistic ephemera.

7. SUBDERMATOGLYPHIC

At 17 characters, this is the longest accepted isogram, a word in which every letter is used only once, and refers to the underlying dermal matrix that determines the pattern formed by the whorls, arches, and ridges of our fingerprints. 

8. SQUIRRELLED

Though the more commonly accepted American English version carries only one L, both Oxford and Merriam-Webster dictionaries recognize this alternate spelling and condone its one syllable pronunciation (think “world”), making it the longest non-coined monosyllabic English word at 11 letters.

9. ABSTENTIOUS

One who doesn’t indulge in excesses, especially food and drink; at 11 letters this is the longest word to use all five vowels in order exactly once.

10. ROTAVATOR 

A type of soil tiller, the longest non-coined palindromic word included in an English dictionary tallies nine letters. Detartrated, 11 letters, appears in some chemical glossaries, but is generally considered too arcane to qualify.

11. and 12. CWTCH, EUOUAE

The longest words to appear in a major dictionary comprised entirely of either vowels or consonants. A Cwtch, or crwth, is from the Welsh word for a hiding place. Euouae, a medieval musical term, is technically a mnemonic, but has been accepted as a word in itself. 

Original image
Here's How British and American Spelling Parted Ways
Original image
5308110492001

Why do Brits and Americans spell certain words differently? A colourful tale of dictionaries, politics, and national identity ensues here.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios