In my nature photography blog the other day I posted a picture of a Texas dandelion, a species that surprised some readers by its existence. That plant, Pyrrhopappus pauciflorus, is called a Texas dandelion to distinguish it from what is almost universally known in English simply as a dandelion, Taraxacum officinale, which has yellow flowers and turns into a greyish-white puffball of seeds that have a predilection for finding their way into people’s lawns.

Although the common dandelion has spread to most parts of the world, it originated in Europe. Speakers of Middle English called it dent-de-lioun, a term taken from Old French dentdelion. Spanish speakers have an advantage in being able to recognize the components as diente de león, which is in fact their name for the flower, and one that I assume was either copied from French or directly modeled on the Medieval Latin original, dens leonis ‘lion’s tooth.’

But does a dandelion really look like a lion’s tooth? The flower certainly does not, but the Medieval European imagination saw the plant’s jagged, indented leaves as resembling lion’s teeth—and note that English indent and Spanish endentar have the same Latin root for ‘tooth’ in them.

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. shoreacres
    Apr 15, 2012 @ 16:53:38

    I’ve just done a completely non-scientific survey of a few blogs and a bunch of my books, and what never had occurred to me seems to be true. In books, paragraphs are indented. In blogs, lines of space separate paragraphs.

    Why the difference? I have some suspicions, but my favorite is – there are fewer literary lions roaming the web to leave toothmarks on the text!


  2. Steve Schwartzman
    Apr 15, 2012 @ 18:05:19

    Everywhere else I do indent, but WordPress’s default is not to indent and to leave a space instead, so I went with that as the path of least resistance. Of course your explanation is a lot more creative and makes you worthy of being lionized.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

If you encounter an unfamiliar technical term in any of these postings, check the Glossary in the bar across the top of the page.
©2011–2016 Steven Schwartzman
%d bloggers like this: