Discussions about eggcorns and related topics
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Chris -- 2015-05-30
Continuing with my list housekeeping. Over the last year I have collected a number of botanical terms that are of interest to me. Some of them I recorded during my reading of .
Barberry: Several species of barberry are used as hedging. By late summer barberry bushes are dotted with bright red berries. But the berries have nothing to do with the name of the shrub. The “-berry” part of “barberry” is a corruption of the Latin word for the plant, berberis. Where the Romans originally got the term, no one seems to know.
Chestnut: The word “chestnut” looks like it might be some combination of “chest” and “nut.” The hard outer shell is arguably a nut chest, but the English word “chestnut” is actual a blend of an older Greek term for a city, Castanea, and the word “nut.”
Parsley piert: Aphanes arvensis is a European plant that has been introduced into other areas of the world. Once you learn to recognize this tiny weed, you will start seeing it everywhere (A picture is . The plant in the picture is only about a centimeter across.). The English name “parsley piert” comes from the French word perce pierre, which presumably denoted the plants ability to break (percer) stones (pierre). In English the plant was, for a time, known as “pierce-stone.” The transformation of the first part of the French name into “parsley” acknowledges the cleft, parsley-like leaves of the plant.
Tangle: The various species of Laminaria, a kelp found in temperate climate oceans, are widely known as “tangle” or “sea tangle.” Large amounts of twisted, dislodged tangle wash up on our own Vancouver Island beaches. The noun “tangle,” whose earliest English examples first appeared in the sixteenth century, almost certainly derives from tang, the Norse word for seaweed. The verb “tangle,” meaning to intertwine, hamper, encumber, arrived in English a century before the seaweed noun. The exact source of the verb is not certain, but there is no evidence that the early senses of the verb had any connection with the Norse word for seaweed. Later semantic evolution of the verb, however, was no doubt influenced by a supposed connection to the name of the kelp, and most modern users of the noun “tangle” probably associate the word with the verb “tangle.”
Last edited by kem (2014-09-22 11:32:14)
Interesting etymology of chestnut, thanks – the modern German is die Kastanie, pronounced to rhyme with Narnia, as I imagine the Greek Castanea would be too
Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day; teach a man to fish and he will buy a ridiculous hat – Scott Adams (author of Dilbert)
Build a man a fire and he will be warm for a day; set a man on fire and he will be warm for the rest of his life – Terry Pratchett
Good ones. I wonder if the weedy sense of tangle is behind the the expression I have heard, of sea-wreck for sea wrack.
The meadow flowers in this kneck of the woods usually have simple names, easy to parse: Selfheal, Allheal, Butter and Eggs, Liverwort, Pissenlit. On a randonnée last year (the local manifestation of a walk, though randonnée originally meant “run impetuously”), we came across the flower in the picture above. The field guide identified it as the Viper’s Bugloss. I was at a loss, too – does it have qualities as an insect repellent? It doesn’t seem to repel bees, at least. The first link shows that bees make Bug Loss Honey.
Viper’s Bug Loss Honey-500g
There’s another picture here:
Viper’s Bugloss is reputed to impart immunity to poisons, venoms, and the viper’s bite. William Cole, in 1656, averred that, “Viper’s Bugloss hath its stalks all to be speckled like a snake or viper, and is a most singular remedy against poyson and the sting of scorpions.” This furthered the opinion of the wonderfully-named Culpeper 4 years earlier: “It is a most gallant herb of the Sun; it is a pity it is no more in use than it is. It is an especial remedy against the biting of the Viper, and all other venomous beasts, or serpents; as also against poison, or poisonous herbs. Discorides and others say, That whosoever shall take of the herb or root before they be bitten, they shall not be hurt by the poison of any serpent.”
Paracelsus Theophrastus Phillippus Aureolus Bombastus von Hohenheim (1493-1541) would have approved. His doctrine of signs and signatures called for the appraisal of clews left by a benevolent but crafty Nature upon the physiognomy of the plant, rather than reliance on ancient texts, in order to know its medicinal value. The seeds, or ‘nutlets’, of the bugloss, leave little room for doubt as to its efficacy as a ward against snakebite.
Connections have also been made to the shape of the dried flower, which is reminiscent to some of a serpent’s head. And what is that sticking out of the bloom above but a forked tongue? The fact that about a quarter of all venomous snake bites are also adds to the herb’s splendid powers.
The spiky toothiness and general shape of the leaves was evocative of the tongue of an ox as well. From etymonline:
bugloss (n.) 1530s, from French buglosse, from Latin buglossa, from Greek bouglossos, literally “ox-tongued,” from bous “ox” (see cow (n.)) + glossa “tongue” (see gloss (n.2)) . So called from the shape of its leaves.
So we can see that an infusion of the leaves, or their tincture in alcohol, is an especial philtre to ward off the French kiss.
A beautiful plant (some would say “weed”) with a rakish color contrast between the magenta stamens and the blue-purple petals. It’s in BC now, but it has yet to show up in the coastal areas where I do my plant randonnées. The “viper” part could also depend on the way the stamens are exerted.