If I thought that titillating you would keep you coming back to this blog, then I’d tell you that according to Martha Barnette, in her book A Garden of Words, the “…elegant Orchid is named not for its alluring blossom but for its twin bulbs that bear a rather unnerving resemblance to testicles.” Similarly, “To the ancient Romans, the Gladius was a sword and a little sword was a Gladiolus.” And when a soldier sheathed his Gladius, he did so into a vagina. (The leaves of the Gladiolus are very sword-like, by the way, hence its name.)
However, I know this is not the way to attract readers. Instead, I’ll discuss the derivations of some of my favorite flowers. The Hydrangea takes its name from two Greek words meaning “water vessel” since that’s what its flowers look like. The Hyacinth is named after the young man, in Greek mythology, of whom both Greek Gods Apollo and Zephyrus were enamored. And finally, the Clematis is derived from a Greek word meaning twig or branch.
If you are into the derivation of names, especially floral names, A Garden of Words is a treasure chest of information. Barnette starts with the flower and the derivation of its name, many times trying to relate it to its Indo-European root, sometimes successfully, to my mind and sometimes not. But if a flower’s name is a combination of words she takes both parts and expands them into many languages, including English. She comes up with many colorful words that have faded from our vocabulary. She discusses the derivation of everyday words, always relating it back to the flower of its origin.
Barnette includes poems, mythology, culture and more in this slim volume. There is a drawing of each flower discussed. I was fascinated by this book and stupidly did not make notes that I could go back to later. Oh well, maybe I’ll just have to read it again. If there are any wordsmiths out there, A Garden of Words is a pleasant diversion.
In her book, Barnette mentions another book, Who Named the Daisy? Who Named the Rose? by Mary Durant. So, just like one word leads to another leads to another, so one book must lead to the next. I’ve just ordered a copy of Who Named the Daisy?. I can’t wait to see what it’s all about. Happy reading and happy gardening!