Ed Norton’s Guide to Practical Plant Pronunciation

Photo Credit : Archive Photos


“In order to acquire a growing and lasting respect in society, it is a good thing, if you possess great talent, to give, early in your youth, a very hard kick to the right shin of the society that you love. After that, be a snob.”       Salavador Dali (1904-1989) The true snob never rests; there is always a higher goal to attain, and there are, by the same token, always more people to look                                                                                  down upon.” J. Russell Lynes (1910-1991)

Have you ever been verbally assaulted by a plant pronunciation fanatic and is it sheer coincidence that most of them are older people with English accents or recently converted ‘Master Gardeners’? Is there really such a big difference between CLEM-A-TIS and CLE-MAT-IS that these people feel the need to create an international incident over the whole thing? Perhaps the worst part of this linguistic hypocrisy is its random nature, as the rules seem to change from word to word. Take Forsythia for instance – while the zealots insist on FOR-SITH-IA and are forever wagging their fingers at the FOR-SIGH-THIA proponents – the fact of the matter is that this shrub was named after the Scottish botanist William Forsyth (1737-1804), whose last name is properly pronounced FOR-SIGH-TH. Then there’s the botanical name of the Maple genus, Acer, which is A-KER in classical Latin. The bastardized AY-SER has become almost universally used even amongst pronunciation purists, most of whom are not even aware of the word’s origins. The more recent push to re-brand the popular perennial Heuchera from the commonly used HEW-KERA to HOY-KA-RA (which is the proper pronunciation) has just led to a lot of confusion, with some people convinced that they are now two separate genera. Named after Johann Heinrich von Heucher (1677-1747) – the last name of which really doesn’t have an English equivalent due to the guttural  pronunciation of the German language – and yet a select few have decided that it is better to have confused masses than a mispronounced perennial. Given these unfortunate incidents I have decided that enough is enough, and what is needed is an unbiased arbitrator to make definitive nomenclature decisions for the good of all concerned – someone so utterly removed from garden society that he spends most of his time beneath it, in the sewers of New York City – that someone is none other than Edward Lillywhite Norton. As the “sub-supervisor in the subdivision of the department of subterranean sanitation” and a member in good standing with the Bensonhurst Chapter of the International Order of Loyal Raccoons, he is a person of impeccable repute and his passion for the spoken word, coupled with his devotion to the common man makes him the perfect candidate to finally put an end to this horticultural debacle. Ed and the ‘Committee to Simplify Plant Names’ will be evaluating all botanical terms with the same unbiased expertise, basing their decisions on ease of pronunciation, egalitarian appeal and historical context. The committee will gladly accept public input* and their findings will be posted exclusively on this blog, so keep checking for updates.

*All suggestions from British expats and recently graduated Master Gardeners should be forwarded to the aforementioned Loyal Raccoons lodge.

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2 Responses to Ed Norton’s Guide to Practical Plant Pronunciation

  1. Janis Mack says:

    Love it!

  2. Charlotte says:

    As a 16 year old florist I was reduced to tears when I realized with deep embarrasment I had just proudly ordered 3 racks of “ichenitzia” over the phone instead of echinacea …oops

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