Thursday, February 17, 2022

Language Of Confusion: Floral

This week, we’re looking at flower, and words related to it. I guess this is kind of Vegetation, Part III.
Flower itself showed up in the thirteenth century as both a noun (the flower of a plant) and a verb (to thrive). It comes from the Old French flor, same meaning, and classical Latin florem, which is just flower. That can be traced all the way back to the Proto Indo European bhel-, to thrive or bloom—there are actually two other bhel-s, but they have completely separate definitions. The bhel- that gave us flower also gave us all the other words we’re going to look at today, as well as a bunch of others I’m going to have to go over eventually.
Flour is, in a rather unsurprising turn of events, from the same place. It showed up in the mid thirteenth century and came from flower—flour in fact was one of the many spelling variants of flower before it got codified as flower. They’re not really sure why ground grain came to be called flour when it has nothing to do with flowers, though apparently flour was the “finest part” of grain and that might have something to do with flowers or something. I don’t know, words are stupid.
Also related is flourish, which showed up in the fourteenth century meaning to blossom or grow, and then also meaning brandishing a weapon in the late fourteenth century, and embellishment in the seventeenth century because… well, because. Flourish comes from the Old French floriss and its verb form florir, from the classical Latin florere, to flourish, the verb of florem. Floral is from the same place, having shown up in the mid seventeenth century from the Latin floralis, floral. Flora is older, but back when it showed up in the sixteenth century it only meant the Roman goddess of flowers, while it didn’t mean plant life until 1777. Flora is just flora in Latin, and that’s from flos, flower, and of course bhle-.
Now let’s look at something the same but different: bloom. It showed up in the thirteenth century and is probably Scandinavian in origin, and definitely descended from the Proto Germanic blomon. Abd where does that come from? From bhel-, of course. Just with no Latin involved. Blossom is pretty similar, also having shown up in the thirteenth century. It comes from the Old English blostm, flower, from the Proto Germanic blo-s-, and that’s from bhlow-, another form of bhel-.
Online Etymology Dictionary
Google Translate
University of Texas at Austin Linguistic Research Center
University of Texas at San Antonio’s page on Proto Indo European language
Tony Jebson’s page on the Origins of Old English
Old English-English Dictionary


  1. I never would've guessed flower and flour were related.

  2. It seems odd, but it actually kind of makes sense that flower and flour are related.


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