Saturday, December 22, 2007

Word Origins

While dusting book shelves, I came across an old book - Word Origins and Their Romantic Stories, by Wilfred Funk, 1978 edition.

I felt compelled to stop dusting. I was never fond of dusting anyway.

I paged through trying to find something romantic, or humorous, or fascinating and stumbled across the chapter “Word Histories of Your Garden.” A few excerpts, in 1978 style, follow:

Poinsettia – The Honorable Joel Roberts Poinsett of Charleston, South Carolina, was a distinguished diplomat, Secretary of War in Martin Van Buren’s cabinet . . . appointed special minister to Mexico. It was while there that he became attracted to the large, flaming flowers that we now know so well. He brought some of the plants back to the States and his name Poinsett gave us poinsettia.

Hydrangea – The seed capsule of these showy flowers is shaped like a cup or miniature water-vessel, and when we turn to our Greek lexicon we find the component parts of hydrangea in hydr-, “water,” and angos, “seed” or “capsule.” They look like a “water” cup.

Alyssum – A dainty plant of slender, silvery leaves interspersed with fragrant clusters of small golden or white flowers. The Greeks regarded the plant as a cure for madness and so called it alysson, a-, “not,” and lysa, “madness.”

Tulip – Again among the descriptive names is tulip which, with its showy colors and velvet texture, has somewhat the appearance of a turban. The word comes to us through the obsolete French word tulipan, from tulbend, the Turkish way of saying “turban.”

Other chapters include words about humans, war words, and words of attitudes and emotions, among others.

In the chapter “Where Words about Human Beings Come From”

Fool – Let those who talk too much take care, for the Latin word folis, which gave us fool, means “a windbag.”

I think I’ll go back to dusting.

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