The zinnia, which Spanish usually respells cinia, is a flower that people in many countries plant in their gardens. This kind of daisy was named for the German botanist Johann Gottfried Zinn, whose life lasted from 1727 to only 1759. Life may be short, but art and etymology are long. Where German words have a z (which is pronounced ts), the native English cognate typically has a t, as in German/English pairs like zehn/ten, zu/to, and Zug/tug (note that German capitalizes its nouns, as English used to). If you apply that correspondence to Zinn, you’ll find that it is the cognate of the native English noun tin. Does that make a zinnia a tinnia? It can if you want it to, but don’t expect anyone to know what you’re talking about when you mention your tinnias.

If you’d like to learn more about the origin of the word tin and its cognates among the Germanic languages (which are the only ones in the Indo-European family to show relatives), you can read the etymological article in the American Heritage Dictionary.

© 2013 Steven Schwartzman

4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. lensandpensbysally
    Aug 22, 2013 @ 18:05:20

    Zinnias are evergreen to my sensibilities. Even though they are not native, I grow them every year.


  2. shoreacres
    Aug 24, 2013 @ 15:27:26

    I think of zinnias as “old-fashioned” flowers, but they’ve certainly remained in favor. In the hill country, they’re often found in gardens around houses with lovely tin roofs. Given the Germanic heritage of the area and what I just learned about the language, it seems perfectly appropriate.


    • Steve Schwartzman
      Aug 24, 2013 @ 15:35:45

      I didn’t know that old houses in the Texas Hill Country often have zinnias around them, but you’re most likely right that it has a lot to do with the heavy German settlement there in the mid-1800s.


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©2011–2016 Steven Schwartzman
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