Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Archive for February 18th, 2023

Yet another early wildflower

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At the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center on Lincoln’s Birthday (February 12) the most common wildflower we saw, though still only in small numbers, was Packera obovata. I’ve always known it as golden groundsel, but I see now that other vernacular names for it have included roundleaf ragwort, roundleaf groundsel, spoon-leaved ragwort, and squaw-weed.


One golden groundsel flower head had attracted two kinds of insects:



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Strange English word of the day


In reading Andrew Doyle’s book The New Puritans, which I’ve been quoting from in recent posts, I came across an English word that was new to me: eldritch. That adjective means ‘unearthly, strange, unnatural, eerie, frightening, weird, spooky.’ Etymologists generally take the second part of the word to be from Old English rīċe (where the dot over the c indicates it was pronounced like the ch in chew and rich), meaning ‘realm, kingdom,’ just as in the German cognate Reich. Two main conjectures attempt to explain the first part of eldritch. Some believe it’s from Old English ælf, the forerunner of the word elf, while others attribute it to a root meaning ‘other,’ as in native English else and Latin-derived alien.

One thing that strikes me as eldritch is the proliferation of claims by ideologues that certain familiar English words and phrases are offensive. On December 22nd I discussed a few of them. Another comes up in connection with the wildflower shown above, one of whose vernacular names has been squaw-weed. Wiktionary explains that squaw came into English from Algonquian languages in what is now the northeastern United States. In those languages the word meant ‘woman’ or ‘young woman’ or ‘wife.’ As Wiktionary goes on to note: “In the 1970s, some non-linguists [emphasis mine] began to claim that the word originally meant ‘vagina’; this has been discredited. The first recorded version of the word was found in a book called Mourt’s Relation: A Journey of the Pilgrims at Plymouth written in 1622. The term was not used in a derogatory fashion but spoke of the ‘squa sachim or Massachusets Queen’ in the September 20, 1621 journal entry.”

Oh well, since when does the truth matter? In an era when ideologues claim a woman is anyone who identifies as a woman, what chance did squaw have? Activists carried the day with their false claim, and now anyone who uses squaw runs the risk of getting excoriated. In 2021 the U.S. Board on Geographic Names changed Colorado’s Squaw Mountain to Mestaa’ėhehe Mountain. An article on the Colorado Politics website explains that “Mestaa’ėhehe, also known as “Owl Woman,” was a Southern Cheyenne leader and wife of William Bent…. Owl Woman ‘helped negotiate trade between the many groups who traded at Bent’s Fort, and helped maintain good relations between the white people and the Native people.'”

Interestingly, the Owl Woman link in that article brings us to a National Park Service page that calls her Mistanta, which would be easier for English speakers to “identify with,” spell, and pronounce than Mestaa’ėhehe, even if the latter is a more accurate rendition for those who speak Cheyenne.


© 2023 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

February 18, 2023 at 4:25 AM

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