Discussions about eggcorns and related topics
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Chris -- 2011-03-08
Forum members outside North America will be happy to hear that we have survived another Mother’s Day. In Europe the analogous holiday has church connections (Mothering Sunday is the fourth Sunday in Lent), but in the U. S., Australia, and Canada Mother’s Day is a thoroughly secular holiday. It was invented, I’m convinced, by florists.
At the flower stands I saw the usual assortment of potted mums for sale. Those of us who are gardeners suppress a shudder when we see mums in the spring. Flowers in the genus Chrysanthemum are typically fall bloomers. Mums for a May Mother’s Day make sense in Australia, but in the Northern Hemisphere the custom is a botanical abomination.
I suppose using the nickname “mum” for the Chrysanthemum flower might qualify as a hidden eggcorn for many people, especially those who think of a mum as a Mother’s Day flower. But the Mother’s Day flower with the best eggcorn claim is the carnation, the holiday’s signature flower. Carnations are in the Pink (Caryophyllaceae) family of plants and they usually have, as the name suggests, blossoms with a reddish tint. Because of this, the word “carnation” is often assumed to come from the Latinate root “carn,” the word for flesh (carnivore) and for pink/red (incarnadine)1. But the earliest sixteenth-century users of the word “carnation” spell it “coronation.” The original name for the flower seems to have something to do with a crown (corona)-perhaps the use of the flower in crowns and garlands, or even the shape of the flower head (crown-like). By Shakespeare’s day “coronation” had been eggcorned to “carnation” by a Latin-literate public.
(1) Many of us learned about this Latin root from studying Shakespeare. Macbeth soliloquises “Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood / Clean from my hand? No; this my hand will rather / The multitudinous seas incarnadine, / making the green one red.” (Macbeth, Act II, Scene ii).
Last edited by kem (2009-05-13 00:41:55)
Nice. Fall blooming by the chrysanthemum (or its NA counterpart) explains its association with All Saint’s Day, Toussaint in France and the Day of the Dead in Mexico. Perhaps that is what has led to its occasional reimagination as the christanthemum.
November 1rst (“Toussaint”) : you bring flowers (christanthemum) on the grave of the beloved ones
(http://www.france-in-india.org/en/artic … rticle=681)
I’ve been trying to make my way through the Folk-etymology book that you discovered on the web, the one by Abram Smythe Palmer. I’ve been surprised how many of the folk etymologies he cites are botanical-perhaps a quarter of Palmer’s alphabetical entries are about regional, and now mostly archaic, plant names. I’m a gardener and botaniser, so I’ve come across several of these eggcornical transformations in my life with plants (e.g., Jerusalem Artichoke, Sweet Cicely, Barberry), but it would never have occurred to me that plant names would be such popular subjects for folk etymologies. This shows again how far we have come from our rural roots (I know, I sound like a broken record. Assuming, of course, that anybody still knows what a broken record sounds like.).
Après nous, le déluge.