lyrical latin

In last Thursday’s Homes and Gardens section of the Oregonian, Dulcy Mahar wrote the most graceful piece on the use of Latin botanical names that I have read so far. It served up the issue of wielding its proper pronunciation as a weapon of snobbery, with a side of its usefulness for accuracy in the search for specific plants. The part, though, that particularly resonated with me was the pleasure of the sounds of the words.

I have always been a sucker for words. When a client showed me a fetching daisylike flower and told me it was called osteospermum fruiticosum, I was hooked. Besides, the coiners of common names were practical sorts, given to names like toadflax and spiderwort. What self-respecting beauty would stand for getting stuck with a name like that when linaria and  tradescantia virginiana denote one’s presence with so much more panache?

This is as close as I will likely ever get to learning another language. Years of French in high school and college tend to atrophy when not surrounded by the spoken words, and dreams of living in faraway places have long since been supplanted by a love for the place where I am. Here, then, is my chance to savor the exotic, foreign sounds of words rolling around in my mouth, even if the pronunciation remains a struggle.

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