12.3.11

By any other name.

I was perusing the grocery shelves today, trying to find a suitable ingredient for my next batch of kombucha. Perhaps if I'd been more diligent, I would have found something practical, like blueberries, but instead I espied a jar of rosehip preserves. Sweet, tart, subtle, and not too far removed from the rosehip tea I'd have as a kid when I wanted to play "hunter-gatherer." Perfect.

The surprise, though, was when I saw the French side of the label: apparently, they're known in that tongue as "cynorrhodons".


What?

Now, I'll readily admit I don't know why they're "hips", but you'd think that "rose" would translate fairly well? Perhaps they have a rosy alias? As it turns out, they do, but it's still not what you think. They're also known as "fruits de l'églantier" (briar fruits), or "gratte-cul"... and according to Google Translate, that means "hip" -- although "gratte" means "skyscraper" and "cul" means... well, the polite translation is "butt", although its true meaning goes a little deeper.

(Wonderful side conclusion: a French word for "hip" is "high butt". Encore, gentlemen. Encore.)

Oddly, it means that both cases refer to "hip" in the anatomical sense, even though the words themselves are unrelated. But we're getting distracted from my initial puzzlement: the origin of "cynorrhodon".

Apparently, it comes from the Greek word for the fruit, which is "kunorodon", or "dog rose". Why? Because its roots were apparently prescribed as proper treatment for a dog bite.

Moments like this are why I love linguistics -- you'd think that a flower as universal as a rose would be relatively constant, but the Greeks weren't even interested in its fruit, apparently. Perhaps if they hadn't named it after dog bites, it might have tasted sweeter to them?

Whatever its history, though, I'm in love with the name. Cynnorhodon. So exotic and unusual, yet somehow so comfortable within the rules of English (such as they are). I'd like to see that as the name of some character...

...wait a second. Aw, nuts. I was supposed to be writing a novel this year, wasn't I? Okay, back to work on that this weekend!

Phew. Good thing I got sidetracked, or I never would have gotten back to my original plans... which, considering we were talking about the history of the English language, is entirely appropriate.

3 comments:

Marion said...

Actually, the usual word for hip is "hanche". And "gratte" is just to scrape. A sky-scraper is a gratte-ciel.

If plants and flower exist across geographic regions, it is likely that they will have names in each language that are not necessarily related to each other.

Denton said...

That makes a lot more sense, Marion. Thank you!

And although you're certainly correct that geographic distances allow for unrelated terms, there already exists so much overlap between French and English for the word "rose", I was surprised to see such a relatively large divide for "rosehip".

But yes - I admit, I'd already suspected "high butt" (or "scrape butt") was too good to be true. : ) Thanks again!

Abe said...

I thought cynorrhodons were a type of pokemon.

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Canadian explorer. Chemist by training, biologist by nature. Long-time supporter and participant in National Novel Writing Month. Known as "Aquadeo" in most Internet circles. Also known as "that guy with the pants" to people who have seen me in certain pants.