Saturday, 20 June 2015

runcible gardening

For no known reason, on Friday I was thinking about runcible spoons, as I pottered in the garden. I thought I remembered that the word runcible was a nonsense invention by Edward Lear. I had been on a 'weed walk' led by Adam Grubb, and had bought a copy of his  book The Weed Forager's Handbook, but I don't see why that should have got me musing about runcible spoons. I was browsing Adam's book and came to the page about Sow Thistles. We have lots of this weed in our garden, so I thought I'd also read about the plant in a book I bought decades ago, Weeds of Forests, Roadsides and Gardens. I love comparing information, because it seems to help knowledge 'stick' in my head.

Since I don't have a background education in botany, I find the text in this latter book hard to understand. But when I read that the leaves of Sonchus oleraceus (sow thistle) are thin and runcinate, my attention sharpened.

So what, I asked myself, does runcinate mean? The Free Dictionary defines it as:
a leaf having incised margins with the lobes or teeth curved toward the base; as a dandelion leaf.
Now I wondered whether Lear's made-up word might have had some connection, even if subconscious on his part, with this botanical term. Was Lear a botanist? No. But he did illustrate natural history books, so it's possible he was familiar with the term runcinate.

The Guardian has a collection of suggested origins for the word that are much more likely than mine, but why shouldn't I, too, have fun imagining the mind of Edward Lear?

I've written about weeds previously. To me there's no such thing as a weed. They're just plants. Oh, maybe I'd make an exception for moth plants. I really don't like them. No, I shouldn't do that. They're just trying to make a living, like everything else in my garden.

Saturday, 13 June 2015

How do species relate to spices?

I find it interesting when I discover that similar-sounding words that seem to have unrelated meanings actually are related etymologically.

This week, when I was reading my newly purchased book, Herbs and Spices; the Cook's Reference, by Jill Norman, I discovered the relationship between the words specie, spice and species.

On page 9 she writes this about the word spices:
Again our word derives from Latin, where species meant specific kind but, in later use, goods or merchandise - spices certainly being an important commodity even at the time of the Romans.
This made me wonder about the expression payment in specie. I didn't know what it means, but I've read it in historical novels. says of the word specie:

coined money; coin.
in specie,
  1. in the same kind.
  2. (of money) in coin.
  3. in a similar manner; in kind:
    Such treachery should be repaid in specie.
  4. Law. in the identical shape, form, etc., as specified.

Collins English dictionary gives the origin of the phrase in specie as:
C16: from the Latin phrase in speciÄ“ in kind