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Flowery language: decoding the classical origins of botanical terms

"Hyacinthus was struck, and died—but from the blood a lovely flower was born"

By Charlotte Higgins   October 2019

My elder brother and his partner both trained as botanists, and I’m pretty sure that some of my early Latin was garden Latin: this was the way I learned that humilis means low-growing and reptens means creeping (see also, “reptile”). On the other hand, no classical Latin dictionary would have given me the common botanical term officinalis, a medieval word indicating the plant will have some useful, medicinal application—like Rosmarinus officinalis, rosemary, or Cinchona officinalis, quinine.

Over the years, the botanists and I have engaged in a…

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