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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.
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Saturday, August 28, 2010

Waiter! There's a gun in my salad!


Just reading a newspaper article about edible flowers which has the following flower-prep recommendation: "Remove the stamens and pistols from most flowers". Always good advice! I agree it's not that appetizing to find a gun in your salad, but really what they meant was "pistil".

Pistil is derived from a diminutive of the Latin word pilum (a pestle; one of those small club-shaped implements used to crush things in a bowl).
Above is a picture of a pestle and one of a pistil. You can see how one was named after the other.

Pistol (a handgun) is derived, unusually for English, from Czech. In Czech, the word píst'ala (a whistle, pipe, flute) was apparently first applied during the Hussite wars to a weapon with a barrel and a clear-sounding shot.

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About Me

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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.