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AWADmail Issue 595

A Weekly Compendium of Feedback on the Words in A.Word.A.Day and Tidbits about Words and Language

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From: Audrey Shabbas (audreyshabbas gmail.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--lotus-eater

The amazingly beautiful island of Djerba, off the coast of Tunisia, is hailed as the legendary "Land of the Lotus Eaters". It is a magical place!

Audrey Shabbas, Belize

From: Alex McCrae (ajmccrae277 gmail.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--lotus-eater

Of course, historically, the lotus flower has especial import to devotees of the Buddhist religion. Often we see paintings, or sculptures of the closed-eyed, meditating Buddha seated on a floating giant lotus blossom, having assumed a tranquil yogic pose. (The 'lotus position', no less.)

Since this most aesthetically pleasing, exotic flower manifests itself in basically three main colors-- white, pink, and blue-- I've learned that each color holds a special, and different, symbolic meaning relative to individual color, in terms of Buddhist faith, and observance.

The fact that the lotus plant can survive, and even thrive, in murky, mucky waters, for the Buddhist faithful can symbolize the right-thinking, enlightened individual's ongoing quest to rise above the impure and imperfect muck-and-mire of the physical world, and its earthly temptations, and strive to attain a state of nirvana as a fully actualized, evolved spiritual being.

Whether one ever reaches that desired state of supreme spiritual bliss is a moot point. It appears that it is in the dogged search for this enlightened state of maximum self-realization that the greatest rewards are unwittingly gained. In other words, the spiritual journey is as important as the ultimate rarified destination.

Alex McCrae, Van Nuys, California

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from: Christine Burton (christine.burton servicecanada.gc.ca)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--lotus-eater

A common Canadianism is to refer to the West Coast generally and Vancouver in particular as "lotus-land", drawn from the same lotus-eaters reference, as the weather is mild, the scenery idyllic, there is to some extent a "dreamy", relaxed, artistic, and "hippie" culture which is widely attributed to an alleged culture of accepted use of pot. While some use the term in derision, the modern "Canadian Dream" (another Canadianism*) seems to be to retire to that same West Coast -- whether for the climate or the pot is unclear.

*The Canadian Dream is a well-known book by Pierre Berton about the construction of the trans-Canada railway, which was instrumental in the "creation" of Canada -- it was the "dream" of our Fathers of Confederation that we be connected from "sea to shining sea" as one nation.

Christine Burton, Ottawa, Canada

From: Patrick Lashbrook (plashbrook msn.com)
Subject: Primrose path

Have you ever tried negotiating a "path" through a bed of roses? I am rarely able to weave my way through without a few bloody scratches. A primrose, however, has no thorns. One can easily negotiate this path without suffering damage. Seems to me a Primrose Path offers much less resistance.

Patrick Lashbrook, Johnson City, Tennessee

From: Ersen Sener (ersensener gmail.com)
Subject: Primrose Path

I believe that might be also related to a famous Persian tale. It's about a wise man who asks his friend, scholar, pupil, or whatever to walk through a path in his garden and pick the most beautiful rose he finds. But he could walk through the path only one time. He can't see all the path and then return to pick the most beautiful one. He spots many beautiful ones but he does not pick one thinking there may be a more beautiful one further. But most of them aren't worth picking and he's left better ones behind. Finally he ends up with no roses.

Ersen Sener, London, UK

From: Dominique Mellinger (dominiquemellinger yahoo.co.uk)
Subject: primrose path

In French we have approximately the same saying: 'La vie n'est pas un jardin de roses' (life is not a rose garden) which led to the new saying that appeared in the 70s: 'Si la vie est un jardin de roses, qu'est-ce que je fais dans les patates?' (If life is a rose garden what am I doing in the potato field?), 'patates' being the colloquial for potatoes.

It is still in use in speech, in a humorous way, especially when one is confronted with an event or a decision leading to endless hours of repetitive or tiring work.

Dominique Mellinger, Gorze, France

From: Stu Tarlowe (stuarttarlowe gmail.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--primrose path

Some folks say "primrose lane". In fact, I remember a song by that name that was a hit in the '50s. It was sung by Country & Western artist Jerry Wallace; according to Wikipedia it was written by Wayne Shanklin and George Callender. Primrose Lane

Life's a holiday on Primrose Lane
Just a holiday on Primrose Lane
With you

Can't explain

When we're walkin' down the Primrose Lane
Even roses bloomin' in the rain,

With you

Sweet perfume
Those little old roses bloom
And I want to walk with you
My whole life through

Stu Tarlowe, Rosedale, Kansas

From: Kate Schubart (robart gmavt.net)
Subject: Re: lily-livered

Though some say Shakespeare coined, or at least popularized, the phrase "lily-livered" -- in MacBeth 1623 -- and white lilies were certainly known in England by that time, it is hard to believe that the expression wasn't more due to the irresistible pull of alliteration and belief that the liver was the seat of emotions. Several sources point out that it wasn't just courage that was believed to be 'seated' there, rather than the color of a human liver. Few would have seen a liver with any color back then -- anatomy classes were few and far between.

So I'd argue for alliteration, organs as seats of emotion, and the association of white with purity (Madonna lilies were white because of their association with the Madonna) and therefore femininity. Anyone have further information?

Kate Schubart, Hinesburg, Vermont

From: Steve Price (sdprice510 mac.com)
Subject: sub rosa

You wrote: In Roman mythology, Venus's son Cupid gave a rose to Harpocrates, the god of silence.

Although Adolph Marx of the Marx brothers was nicknamed Harpo because he played the harp, he never spoke on camera so his soubriquet might equally have come from Harpocrates.

Steve Price, New York, New York

From: Dr. Alexis Melteff (alanmeredith42 hotmail.com)
Subject: sub rosa

The insignia of the Army Intelligence branch is: on a gold-colored metal dagger, point up, 1 1/4 inches overall in height, a gold-colored metal heraldic sun composed of four straight and four wavy alternating rays surmounted by a gold heraldic rose. The petals are dark blue enamel. The idea is to work very quietly and not let the enemy know what we know.

Dr. Alexis Melteff, Santa Rosa, California

From: M Henri Day (mhenriday gmail.com)
Subject: sub rosa

Alas, what with the efforts of the NSA and its wholly-owned subsidiaries, like the GCHQ and the FRA, etc., etc., nothing is sub rosa these days.

M Henri Day, Stockholm, Sweden

From: Antonio Dittmann (dittmann.antonio comcast.net)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--sub rosa

I believe it was Da Vinci Code writer Dan Brown who posits, through his semiotics professor, Robert Langdon, that sub rosa referred to secrets spoken in church under the Rose Window -- a circular, stained glass, translucent mosaic that exists in most non-modern era churches. The imagery implies secrecy, sanctuary, and perhaps the unbreakable seal of the confessional.

A similar term comes to mind. It is not unusual for the term "purple stole" to be used by Catholics or Anglicans to imply secrets told under the unbreakable guarantee of confidentiality. The purple stole is a thin scarf-like item that a priest wears over his/her neck before hearing a confession.

It seems to me your explanation of its origins is eminently more on the mark. The Christian "cover" explanation might have arisen as a result of syncretism: turning pagan notions into holy, Catholic realities. Perhaps?

Antonio Dittmann, Vashon, Washington

From: Alex McCrae (ajmccrae277 gmail.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--amaranthine

Curiously, when I was a youngster growing up in the suburbs of Toronto, my dad, an avid gardener, grew this handsome burgundy-red flowering annual plant, with these long, full, drooping floral stalks, which I was told was called my-love-lies-bleeding. I thought this was an apt name, since one could imagine these deep purple-red, pendulous flowering tendrils as streams of actual flowing blood. (A bit of a gruesome thought, as a kid... or maybe not... depending on the kid. Ha!)

Much later into adulthood, I learned that this flower, amaranthus caudatus, also known as a tassel flower, pendant flower, and velvet flower, was a member of a wide variety of plants in the amaranth family, including several commercially harvested ones that yield abundant, nutrient-rich, perfectly edible seeds. Today, large scale amaranth farming goes on in both India and parts of South America, and is speculated to have first been used as a food grain in the Peruvian Andes region by the resourceful Pre-Columbian Inca and Moche cultures.

Most health food stores in the US carry amaranth-derived products, including boxed cereal flakes and organic amaranth flour. Who knew?

Alex McCrae, Van Nuys, California

From: Paul VerNooy (paul.d.vernooy usa.dupont.com)
Subject: Please don't gild the lilies!

I realize "gild the lily" is a common expression, but it is misquoting Shakespeare. Please don't perpetuate this mistake! It is from his play, King John: "To gild refined gold, to paint the lily, to throw a perfume on the violet, to smooth the ice, or add another hue unto the rainbow, or with taper-light to seek the beauteous eye of heaven to garnish, is wasteful and ridiculous excess."

Paul VerNooy, Hockessin, Delaware

Thanks for your note. Yes, we should be painting the lily (or not), instead of gilding it, but it's too late now. The expression "to gild the lily" has been around for more than 100 years and well-established. In language, popular usage often supersedes logic. If it weren't so, we'd be eating cherises (instead of cherries) because someone mistakenly assumed the singular cherise to be a plural and coined the singular cherry. And that's just one among numerous others where "erroneous" form stuck.
-Anu Garg

From: Nancy R. Griffith (rahijasaad hotmail.com)
Subject: language of flowers

There is a very interesting novel called The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh. The Victorian meanings of flowers is crucial to the plot.

Nancy R. Griffith, Sacramento, California

Words are the soul's ambassadors, who go / Abroad upon her errands to and fro. -James Howell, writer (c. 1594-1666)

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