Two of my favorite things are teaching literacy and gardening and I get super excited when I can combine the two. I began making flower etymology memes just for fun when I ran onto a fun meaning in the course of researching for one of my tutoring sessions in response to a student question. The memes were a hit with my friends and colleagues, and I was having so much fun making them, that I took requests and continued creating them.
I love that pansy means “thought, remembrance” and that lilaceous is a real word. Here is part two of the results of my research. Enjoy!
During a math lesson on angles with my
verbally-gifted fifth-grade student, Brandan*, I drew a picture of an acute
angle and an obtuse angle and labeled them. He immediately said, in a high
voice, “Ooooh it is such a cute angle.” I told him that was exactly how
I always remembered it, but that wasn’t really what it meant. Of course, he wanted
to know what it really meant, and I already had my fingers on the keyboard to
look it up on etymonline.com.
We found that acute is an adjective
and came from the Proto-Indo European (PIE) root *ak, which means to “be sharp,
rise (out) to a point, pierce.” The meaning was originally used for illness and
fevers in the late 1400s. The meaning “ending in a sharp point” and “sharp or
penetrating intellect” both came about around the late 1500s. As a descriptive term
for intense or sharp pain it was used beginning in the early 1700s.
We talked about how the word could be
used literally– like it is used in geometry or more figuratively such as when
we talk of disease or pain.
And as it turned
out—the adjective cute is related!
In 1731 it is
attested as cute, meaning “clever, sharp, smart,” shortening of
acute; informal sense of “pretty” is by 1834, It is American English
colloquial and student slang.
I followed up with a more indepth study of the word. In John Ayto’s Word I
learned that it is related to the English word ague, which is an older
word for flu. The Latin verb, acuere, was probably formed from Latin
word for needle, acus. Other words that stem from the PIE root *ak are acid,
acrid, acetic, oxygen and edge.
With the information I had previously gathered, I used Wordsearcher.com to compile a list of possible related words.
looked up, and ruled out, the unrelated words, persecute, prosecute,
execute and their derivitives because they have a different base. I
noticed that cutey and cuteys was an unconventional spelling, so I looked up both
cutie and cutey and found that they are alternate spellings with the same
Next, I created a matrix in Mini Matrix Maker.
are the word sums possible with this matrix:
a + cute
cute/ + er à cuter
cute/ +ey à cutey
+ ly à cutely
cute/ + est à cutest
+ sy à cutesy
cute/ + ey
+ s à cuteys
a + cute
+ ly à acutely
+ ness à cuteness
a + cute
+ ness à acuteness
cute/ + ie à cutie
cute/ + ie + s à cuties
(The slash mark indicates that the letter
is replaced by the vowel suffix which follows.)
As Brandan and I were
talking, I looked up obtuse in Etymonline.com. I found that obtuse is from
the early fifteenth century and means “dull, blunted, not sharp” It comes from
the Latin obtusus, which had the same meaning as well as a more
figurative meaning “to beat against, make dull” The morphemes are ob- (“in front
of, against”) + tundere “to beat” from PIE root*(s)tud-e- “to beat strike,
thrust from PIE root *(s)teu- “to push, stick, knock, beat. The sense of “stupid,
not senstetive or perceptive is from the 1500s. In geometry, it became the name
of an angle greater than a right angle in the 1560s.
I tried to elicit its meaning from Brandan,
I asked “What is the opposite of sharp?” He had a puzzled look on his face and
answered with “fluffy?” I laughed at the image already in my head and tried
again, “I can have a sharp knife or a…” I waited for him to come up with a
response. And I waited a second longer. Then he cocked his head and slowly said
I laughed and drew a cloud-like blade
and handle on the whiteboard table in front of him. We both burst out laughing.
explained the meaning “dull, blunted, not sharp” to him and his eyes got big
with understanding and discovery. I then explained that the word could be used
to describe someone who is being stupid, or just clueless. He rubbed his hands
together in glee, planning already to use the insult on his little sister.
We went back to our math problems with
a game we call “splatball” (an impromptu game we made up, basically throwing
Crayola Globbles at a target drawn on the whiteboard.) Every few minutes,
Brandan said, “fluffy knife” and we burst out laughing again.
Tutoring bright funny kids makes my job the best!
I continued the research the word obtuse later and found related words and made a matrix. From John Ayto’s Word Origins, I found that the word is related to contusion and toil. I searched words in Wordsearcher.com using the search <tuse>
Again, I ruled out any words that were not related, and then I did an additional search for <tus> which yielded the related words: contused, contuses, contusing, contusion, and contusive.
ob + tuse à obtuse
ob + tuse + ly à obtusely
ob + tuse + ness à obtuseness
con + tuse/ +
ion à contusion
con + tuse/
+ ive à contusive
con + tuse/ + ed à contused
con + tuse/ + es à
con + tuse/ + ing à contusing
obtund (does not fit in matrix but is related.)
*names and details changed but be sure to look up the meaning of
the name “Brandan.”
I moved last year and this is the first year for a really good garden, so I have had flowers on my brain. I started playing around in canva.com and started creating flower etymology memes and sharing them. They are a bit addicting and others tell me they look forward to them each day. So here is my collection so far. Lily has two versions, because I just couldn’t choose my favorite! Enjoy them and the beauty of summer.
I am incredibly excited and honored to be part of this conference. I will be presenting on incorporating word study– etymology, morphology, phonology and orthography– into an Orton Gillingham approach. You can find registration information here.