Yesterday’s posting dealt with rana ‘frog’ and a couple of its diminutives. Another Latin diminutive of rana had been ranunculus, which could refer to ‘a little frog’ or ‘a tadpole.’ Lewis and Short’s A Latin Dictionary adds that the Romans used the word humorously to refer to ‘an inhabitant of Ulubrae,’ a village that was some 30 miles from Rome at the edge of the Pontine Marshes and therefore close to lots of frogs. Although that joking reference is lost to all but Latin scholars (and now readers of this blog), botanists have carried over another sense of ranunculus: the Romans used the word to designate ‘a certain medicinal plant,’ presumably because it or some part of it resembled a little frog, or perhaps because the plant was found in the same environment as frogs. Spanish has altered the word slightly to ranúnculo, and the unchanged Latin Ranunculus now serves as the genus name for the type of plant with yellow flowers that English knows as a ‘buttercup.’

A flower in the genus Ranunculus


Not to be outdone by biolgists, mathematicians have added the suffix -oid, which means ‘looking like, resembling,’ to create ranunculoid as the name of a certain five-lobed closed curve whose shape is like that of a buttercup’s flower.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman


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©2011–2016 Steven Schwartzman
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