Deptford PinkNo, not entomology, the study of insects.  Etymology:  “the history of a linguistic form”.  In other words:  where words come from.  I’m always fascinated to learn where words come from.  Two flowers gave me the opportunity to learn some etymology just this week.

First, the word pink.  Did you know the word comes from a flower that has that color.  Originally, the word pink meant small (like your pinkie finger!).  Here’s what I found on the ‘Net:

The word pink is generally agreed to be derived from the similar Dutch word pinck. However, there are two theories about which sense of the Dutch word was involved, and how it became applied to the colour. One is that it came from pinck in the sense of “small” (which turns up in the modern English word pinky for “little finger”), through the expression pinck oogen “small eyes” — that is, “half-closed eyes” — and that this was borrowed into English and applied to the flowers of the common English cottage-garden species Dianthus plumarius, which has been called a pink since the seventeenth century. The other theory says it came from pinck in the sense of “hole” (which is the origin of pinking shears, the device used to make ornamental holes in cloth) and was applied to the flowers of Dianthus because they resembled the shape of the holes. Either way, the colour comes from the plant, not the other way round.


NipplewortSecond… a new plant for me.  I keep seeing this plant.  Everywhere.  I finally decided I needed to learn its name.  Wow.  How does a plant get a name like “Nipplewort”?  The suffix “wort” means plant.  I figured the first half of the word must relate to a medicinal use?  I was right.  But the name itself – well – somebody just made it up!  Look: 

“Camerarius [a Nuremberg physician and botanist] saith that in Prussia they call it Papillaris, because it is good to heale the ulcers of the nipples of womens breasts, and thereupon I have intituled it Nipplewort in English.” Theatrum Botanicum; or an Herball of Large Extent, 1640, page 811


So, there you have it.  Remind me someday to tell you my favorite word etymology.

4 thoughts on “Etymology

  1. Fascinating! I find medicinal plant uses very interesting. I will have to look for the nipplewort. I will appreciate the pinks in my garden all the more. 🙂

  2. I’m also fascinated by etymology and lust after a full copy of the OED, which has quite a lot more of words’ histories than does the New “Shorter” Oxford, itself a fabulous dictionary, and “short” only in comparison to the OED.

    Thanks for sharing the etymology of these two plants – I have wondered how the Pink family got its name.

  3. Hi Jennifer – tell me it’s the “librarian” in people that makes them curious about word origins. I’m a medical librarian and find etymology fascinating. Thanks for sharing the word origins of these two plants.

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