In a post on my other blog last year I featured a wildflower known botanically as Marshallia caespitosa. The species name is based on the Latin noun caespes, with stem caespit-, that meant ‘a piece of sod or turf.’ By extension the word came to be applied to ‘a clump of plants’ and ‘a grassy field.’ That last sense makes clear that Latin caespit- is the ancestor of the Spanish césped that means ‘lawn, grass.’ Where césped is a normal Spanish word, cespitoso, taken from the Latin adjective caespitosus that had been formed from caespit-, belongs to a learned register of the language, as does English cespitose; both mean ‘growing in tufts or clumps.’ English has also used the form cespitious, but I’m suspicious about its continued use, given that I’ve found it only in old dictionaries. In 1828 Noah Webster defined it as ‘pertaining to turf; turfy.’ (And if you’re ever looking for a rhyme for Murphy, now you’ve got one.)

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. shoreacres
    Oct 16, 2012 @ 06:44:22

    There once was a golfer named Murphy
    whose language became rather earthy
    when his ball flew away
    to the lake where he played
    instead of lying about where it’s turfy.



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©2011–2016 Steven Schwartzman
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