Words & Stuff

a: Dogwood (Reader Comments)

(updated 27 March 1997)

Kendra Eshleman mentioned some nifty ladyplant names I'd never seen before: lady's smock, lady's thumb, and lady's ear drop. She added:

I learned an interesting facty today from my Pro Scientia calendar: the Greeks knew of a certain plant, the rheon, which (in their experience) mostly grew in foreign countries, so they called it rheon barbaron. Which came into English as [...] rhubarb.

Mark-Jason Dominus informed me of the amazing fact (or perhaps this too is a facty, somewhere between a fact and a factoid) that "Queen Anne's Lace is actually (get this) a feral carrot." He cited On Food and Cooking (McGee) as his source. Next time I encounter Queen Anne's Lace, I shall endeavor to avoid being bitten.

Dominus later indirectly suggested a Dogwood variant, involving coming up with animal-animal names: bulldog, catfish, chicken hawk, and so on. He points out that such compounds are rarely if ever reversible: "bulldog" is a real animal, but "dogbull" isn't. Challenge to readers: come up with a compound animal name of this sort which is reversible; that is, if you switch the component parts of the animal's name, you get another animal's name. (To make it easier, start with compound animal names which aren't animal-animal pairs, and reverse them to get common phrases. Reverse "show dog" to get "dog show," for instance. To make it even easier, come up with any common compound phrase which results in another common phrase when the components are switched (though this last may turn out to be too easy to be challenging).)

Peter Suzman told me that plant names led him to a loop in his Chambers Twentieth Century Dictionary (1977):

spignel, n. baldmoney (Meum). [...]

baldmoney, n. spignel (Meum athamanticum), a subalpine umbelliferous plant: gentian of various kinds.

(There was more to this particular loop, but I'll save the details for a future column.)

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Jed Hartman <logophilia@kith.org>