Welcome to the Wordlady blog!

This blog is about the fascinating, fun, and challenging things about the English language. I hope to entertain you and to help you with problems or just questions you might have with spelling and usage. I go beyond just stating what is right and what is wrong, and provide some history or some tips to help you remember. Is something puzzling you? Feel free to email me at wordlady.barber@gmail.com.
You can also order my best-selling books, Six Words You Never Knew Had Something to do With Pigs and Only in Canada You Say. Fun and informative!

Subscribe!

Subscribe! Fun facts about English delivered weekly right to your inbox. IT'S FREE! Fill in your email address below.
Privacy policy: we will not sell, rent, or give your name or address to anyone. You can unsubscribe at any point.

Follow by email

Search This Blog

Friday, May 11, 2012

Flower and flour

For Mother's Day, get your mum some flowers. Or if she really likes baking, you could get her some flours. The two words were in fact once the same. The Latin word for the prettiest part of a plant, floris, became flour in Old French (subsequently fleur). Very quickly it acquired another meaning: “the choicest part of a plant”. Applied to wheat, this was the part used for baking. For centuries, “flour” had both meanings in English, then we changed the spelling to “flower”. In the 18th century someone had the bright idea to use one spelling for the wheat meal and the other for blooms.

3 comments:

  1. Hello,

    So this explains the similarity in pronunciation.

    As to the use of "flower" as the choicest part of whatever, this metaphor (is it ?) seems to have existed in the conscience of many peoples.

    For instance, the national poet of Romania speaks in a poem of "all the famed flower of the famous West" (rough translation), in connection to the military forces involved in the failed Christian Crusade of 1396. This poet (Mihai Eminescu, 1850-1889) has studied abroad in Vienna only, and apparently only briefly (for material reasons).

    Another Romanian - Lucian Blaga, a poet-philosopher of the 20th century - writes somewhere about the "corolla of wonders of the world", so I suppose either consciously or unconsciously, poets get fast to this usage of the word/idea of "flower".

    Thanks.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I will never feel embarassed accidentally pronouncing flour as flower again. (My friend explained to me that flour should, in pronunciation, fall somewhere between floor and flower: flar, flah-er, flow-er.)

    Interestingly, "bloom" in "blooms" also comes from a word for flower, as illustrated by things being "in bloom". cf. german blume and dutch bloem.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Dear Sara,
    Your friend is wrong. Flower and flour are pronounced identically. Any attempt to make them sound different would be ridiculously difficult.

    ReplyDelete

About Me

My photo
Canada's Word Lady, Katherine Barber is an expert on the English language and a frequent guest on radio and television. She was Editor-in-Chief of the Canadian Oxford Dictionary. Her witty and informative talks on the stories behind our words are very popular. Contact her at wordlady.barber@gmail.com to book her for speaking engagements; she can tailor her talks to almost any subject. She is also available as an expert witness for lawsuits.