A foxy plant

The German noun Fuchs** means the same as its native English cognate fox. Just as Fox serves as a family name in English, Fuchs does in German, and it so happens that the genus of plants called Fuchsia was named after the German botanist Leonhart Fuchs, who lived from 1501 to 1566. Because some of those plants produce flowers of a vivid reddish purple, that hue has been given the name fucsia/fuchsia. As far as I know, Spanish speakers don’t mess up their word for that color, but English speakers have mispronounced fuchsia for so long that the standard pronunciation has become fyoo-shuh. As a result of that pronunciation,  fuchsia is high on the list of the most often misspelled English words, with *fuschia probably appearing more often than the correct fuchsia.

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** German still capitalizes its nouns, as English once did.

© 2015 Steven Schwartzman

4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. shoreacres
    Aug 27, 2015 @ 20:45:23

    I’m quite fond of that color, and as soon as I read your post, I suspected what I would find when I did a search of my blog. Yes, indeed: in posts and in comments, the misspelling is everywhere.

    As for the pronunciation, I’ve managed after years of effort to straighten out “poinsettia,” but I think I’ll probably just stick with “fyoo-shuh.”

    Speaking of changes in language, I really enjoyed this article. It makes a couple of points relevant to the change from fuchsia to fuschia: especially, that language can be like a leaky faucet.

    Reply

    • Steve Schwartzman
      Aug 27, 2015 @ 23:14:58

      The strange thing is that English has kept the original spelling of fuchsia even while according the word a pronunciation that matches the misspelling fuschia. Another example of that phenomenon is comfortable, which we normally pronounce as if it were cumf-tur-bul.

      One reason that o as a marker of invocations disappeared is that modern English has lost almost all markers of its original case system. We still have ‘s for the possessive case of singular nouns and we have a few pronoun alternations like she/her, he/him, and I/me, but that’s about it. If you remember your Shakespeare, when Caesar is being assassinated he turns to Brutus and says Et tu, Brute? (‘You too, Brutus?’). Brute is the vocative case of Brutus, whom Caesar is addressing.

      Reply

  2. shoreacres
    Aug 28, 2015 @ 07:08:27

    Well, look at me. I’ve pronounced “comfortable” with four syllables as long as I can remember. I tried the alternate pronunciation, and hardly could get it out. People must be using “cumf-tur-bul” all around me, but I can’t remember hearing it.

    Your mention of Brutus does evoke 8th grade: a rather memorable year that included both Shakespeare and Latin, and led to a number of truly bad Et tu jokes in the lunchroom. (“Did you like those cookies?” “Et two.” And so on.)

    Reply

  3. Steve Schwartzman
    Aug 28, 2015 @ 07:59:16

    Those Et tu jokes go over better in Britain, where the past tense of eat is regularly pronounced et.

    As for that other word, it sounds as if you’re not comfortable saying “cumf-tur-bul,” which is the pronunciation I grew up with and still use. I found the greatest number of pronunciations for the word in the Merriam-Webster:

    http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/comfortable

    Reply

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©2011–2016 Steven Schwartzman
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