or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Friday, January 06, 2012

Throwing Shade

For an upcoming post over on my other blog I am writing about a scent which contains galbanum, an intensely green-smelling resin. Now, as it happens, galbanum is an umbellifer, which, you may know, denotes it as part of a family that also contains angelica, Queen Anne's lace, and dill. What do these plants have in common, you ask? Well, you tell me:

That's right: they all have flowers that are big and poofy at the top. (Other members of the umbellifer family include chervil, anise, parsley, and carrots and parsnips: you can look them up yourself, or you can just trust me that they likewise have big poofy flower tops.)

Now, "umbellifer" looks sort of like the word "umbrella", doesn't it? And the big poofy top (technically an inflorescence) of those plants sort of looks kind of like an umbrella, doesn't it? And therefore you might logically think that the words "umbrella" and "umbellifer" are related, mightn't you?

You might. And you would be right. Latin "umbella" meant a sort of parasol, from "umbra", "shade": they lost the "-r-" when they made it a diminutive, but we shoved it right back in there (where it may rightly be said to belong anyway) when we implanted the word into our language around about 1600. When we needed a word for a family of plants with big poofy tops, we compared them to umbrellas and took the Latin word, naturally tacking on the "-fer" suffix which means "bearer"; the umbellifers carry their own umbrellas, and how cute is that?


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