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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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Friday, April 19, 2013

Tiptoe through the tulips

It's been a late spring in southern Ontario, but even here a few brave tulips are beginning to poke through the ground. In more temperate climes they must be blooming, not to mention providing tasty snacks for squirrels (for rhe etymology of "squirrel", please click here.

Tulips came to Europe from their native Turkey in the 16th century, so not surprisingly their name comes from a Turkish word:  tulbant or tulibant.  This word did not originally designate the flower, however; it is simply the Turkish word for "turban". The open flower of a tulip was thought to resemble the headgear. 

But whereas the name for the flower came directly into the western European languages from Turkey, retaining the original "l", the name for the hat took a more circuitous route and acquired an "r" along the way. It is possible that the people of southwestern India, or the Portuguese who colonized parts of India, changed tulbant into turbant. This eventually became our turban. Fortuitously, really, because it would be very odd to read about people wearing tulips on their heads. 

The garden at Chateau Wordlady

 and post-squirrel:

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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.