All This I Saw.

I’m reading Tolstoy’s first published work, the 1852 Istoriya moego detstva [The story of my childhood] (in 1856 published in the book Detstvo i Otrochestvo [Childhood and Boyhood] and known from then on as Detstvo [Childhood]), and I was struck by this passage, from a description of a hunt:

Говор народа, топот лошадей и телег, веселый свист перепелов, жужжание насекомых, которые неподвижными стаями вились в воздухе, запах полыни, соломы и лошадиного пота, тысячи различных цветов и теней, которые разливало палящее солнце по светло-желтому жнивью, синей дали леса и бело-лиловым облакам, белые паутины, которые носились в воздухе или ложились по жнивью, – все это я видел, слышал и чувствовал.

The voices of the peasants; the clatter of horses and wagons; the joyous whistling of quails; the buzz of insects hovering in motionless swarms in the air; the smell of wormwood, straw, and horse-sweat; the thousands of different lights and shadows which the blazing sun poured out over the light-yellow stubblefield, the blue distance of the forest, and the white-and-lilac clouds; the white spiderwebs which were floating in the air or lying on the stubble—all this I saw and heard and felt.

That final “all this I saw and heard and felt” sums up for me what is so striking in Tolstoy, his unique ability to convey in words the sense of life as it is happening and as it is experienced. Even in this early work (he was only twenty-three when he wrote it), his prose has that magical effect; it’s no wonder people took notice and wanted more from him.

Incidentally, I’ve translated полынь as “wormwood,” but it could equally well mean “mugwort”; I have no idea which is more likely for a central Russian rye field in late summer, or for that matter what either smells like.

Update. According to John Cowan in the comments: “For practical purposes the names wormwood and mugwort are interchangeable.” Which would make the task of the translator easier, except that both are exceptionally ugly words. Also, I finally looked up “mugwort” in the OED (entry updated 2003) and discovered it’s etymologically “midge-wort”: “The plant is said to attract flies and midges, and has therefore been used as a means of disposing of them (compare the North German custom of hanging up bundles of mugwort in rooms to attract flies, which are then easily caught by pulling a sack over the bundle).”


  1. Probably it’s Artemisia vulgaris, which makes it mugwort. It seems to be more common.

  2. And yes, it’s an absolutely fascinating picture. And I am writing this as someone who is bored very easily by landscape descriptions.

  3. For practical purposes the names wormwood and mugwort are interchangeable. Mugwort can refer to any of ten species of Artemisia, most prominently A. vulgaris, whose common name is common mugwort. Wormwood by itself usually means A. absinthium, but common wormwood is again A. vulgaris, seemingly the only species that can be called both wormwood and mugwort. Wormwood can also refer more loosely to any of three other Artemisia species or either of two other non-Artemisia species. To add to the confusion, A. absinthium can also be called common wormwood. There are between 200 and 400 species of Artemisia, including A. tridentata, which is sagebrush (though there are other species called that too) and A. dracunculus ‘little dragon’, which is tarragon (yummm!).

  4. Above passage reminds me of the beginning of Gorky’s “Old woman Izergil”:

    Однажды вечером, кончив дневной сбор винограда, партия молдаван, с которой я работал, ушла на берег моря, а я и старуха Изергиль остались под густой тенью виноградных лоз и, лежа на земле, молчали, глядя, как тают в голубой мгле ночи силуэты тех людей, что пошли к морю.
    Они шли, пели и смеялись; мужчины — бронзовые, с пышными, черными усами и густыми кудрями до плеч, в коротких куртках и широких шароварах; женщины и девушки — веселые, гибкие, с темно-синими глазами, тоже бронзовые. Их волосы, шелковые и черные, были распущены, ветер, теплый и легкий, играя ими, звякал монетами, вплетенными в них. Ветер тек широкой, ровной волной, но иногда он точно прыгал через что-то невидимое и, рождая сильный порыв, развевал волосы женщин в фантастические гривы, вздымавшиеся вокруг их голов. Это делало женщин странными и сказочными. Они уходили все дальше от нас, а ночь и фантазия одевали их все прекраснее.
    Кто-то играл на скрипке… девушка пела мягким контральто, слышался смех…
    Воздух был пропитан острым запахом моря и жирными испарениями земли, незадолго до вечера обильно смоченной дождем. Еще и теперь по небу бродили обрывки туч, пышные, странных очертаний и красок, тут — мягкие, как клубы дыма, сизые и пепельно-голубые, там — резкие, как обломки скал, матово-черные или коричневые. Между ними ласково блестели темно-голубые клочки неба, украшенные золотыми крапинками звезд. Все это — звуки и запахи, тучи и люди — было странно красиво и грустно, казалось началом чудной сказки. И все как бы остановилось в своем росте, умирало; шум голосов гас, удаляясь, перерождался в печальные вздохи.

  5. But that’s too long and detailed; he lost me at “Они шли, пели и смеялись; мужчины — бронзовые, с пышными, черными усами и густыми кудрями до плеч, в коротких куртках и широких шароварах” [They walked, sang, and laughed, the men tanned, with splendid black mustaches and thick shoulder-length curls, in short jackets and wide trousers]. I just don’t care that much about these guys, or the tanned women with their silky hair blowing in the wind, or the detailed description of the smells in the air and exactly what the clouds are like; it’s description for its own sake, showing off, and like D.O. I am easily bored by landscape descriptions. Tolstoy tells you just enough to set the scene and show you how it affects his narrator; there is nothing superfluous, nothing added just because it makes a prettier picture. Compare his (much later) description of the town of Enns and the Danube quoted in this post; of course it’s more resonant, since Tolstoy had become a great novelist by then, but it’s just as concise. If nothing more is needed, nothing more should be added.

  6. there is nothing superfluous

    Hemingway would doubtless disagree, as would the fellow who reduced the opening of “A Christmas Carol” to “Marley was dead” in his French translation, and then launched into the “story proper”. Showing vs. telling is very much a matter of taste, by which I do not mean that the choice is arbitrary.

  7. Aren’t the best known – and most remembered by their smell – species of Artemisia (such as A. tridentata) – better known as sagebrush in the US English?

  8. “Aujourd’hui, Marley est mort.” 😛

  9. Aren’t the best known – and most remembered by their smell – species of Artemisia (such as A. tridentata) – better known as sagebrush in the US English?

    But “sagebrush” is so inextricably associated with the American West, and westerns, that it would sound ludicrous here. You’d expect a troop of Comanches to come riding over the horizon, firing rifles and whooping.

    “Aujourd’hui, Marley est mort.”

    Brilliant! Camus does Dickens.

  10. Aren’t the best known – and most remembered by their smell – species of Artemisia (such as A. tridentata) – better known as sagebrush in the US English?

    It is, as I noted above, and A. californica too.

  11. Dmitry, yes, especially because they (and their smell) are such a big component of their ecosystems.

  12. Hemingway would doubtless disagree

    Only if attacking someone else’s writing. In his own, he allowed himself wide latitude. Opening For Whom the Bell Tolls at random, we find:

    The man to whom Pilar spoke was short and heavy, brown-faced, with broad cheekbones; gray haired, with wide-set yellow-brown eyes, a thin-bridged, hooked nose like an Indian’s, a long upper lip and a wide, thin mouth. He was clean shaven and he walked toward them from the mouth of the cave, moving with the bow-legged walk that went with his cattle herdsman’s breeches and boots. The day was warm but he had on a sheep’s-wool-lined short leather jacket buttoned up to the neck.

  13. Well, sure. The purpose of artists’ theories is to give themselves something to violate.

  14. “sagebrush” is so inextricably associated with the American West

    And “wormwood” rings so few bells (is it a tree? does it have worms?) that it’s probably hampered by absence of associations? Other than perhaps with the Apocalypses where it is a star, rather than a plant, anyway?

    But thanks for clarifying how the Wild West link may be disqualifying. In Russian at least, “sagebrush” is always translated as “полынь”, so the fine distinction between Steppe vs. Prarie species is lost on the Russians. They look, and especially smell, the same, and we always use A. tridentata for the classic Travnitsa Russian herb-scented fabric dolls. What should we call this scent then, LH? For its connotation to be “good and healthy”? Is “mugwort” a nice enough word?

  15. Oh, I missed this: both are exceptionally ugly words. Uh oh. But Russian “полынь”, like sagebrush, has only positive connotations, of the wild, wide open country, and of the nostalgic memories of the childhood, as in the classic legend of the nomadic chieftain who returns back to the Steppe when the envoys from the tribe give him a twig of sagebrush to smell.

  16. I have never seen or heard the word “mugwort” used, so it has no associations (except for its remarkable ugliness). “Wormwood” has vague associations with the Bible and Shakespeare, but I doubt many people could tell you what it is. So really, there is no way to translate полынь other than botanically (i.e., no English rendition is going to convey what the word means to Russians). One of those translational conundrums!

  17. Maybe some roundabout, non-botanical way – “wild herbs of the Steppe” or smth.
    Here is a bit more crystallized concept, from the last verses of Esenin, were its smell is nostalgic, warm, and foreboding at the same time.

  18. Wormwood was more common in older literature, as a byword for intense bitterness. It was used as a deworming medicine and is the active ingredient in absinthe.

    I think ‘mugwort’ is a nice word for a nice plant, but I, too, would like to know what LH thinks.

    (P.S. Down with Linnean prudery! Long live folk taxonomy!)

  19. And in Ukrainian it is popularly known as чорно́биль as in Chernobyl.

  20. Yes, “wild herbs of the steppe” might be a good solution. Although Y thinks “mugwort” is a nice word for a nice plant, so maybe my reaction is purely a personal one.

    …Just asked my wife, and she likes the word. So I’m the odd man out, and “mugwort” it is!

  21. Malurt in Danish — the story goes that people would put A. absinthium in their moonshine to hide the taste of fusel oil and other things more harmful to their health than the alcohol itself, to a degree where it was seen as a public health problem in the late 19th century. A problem solved by the untraditional means of _removing_ the tax on the properly distilled, better tasting stuff, so people could afford to drink themselves to death slower — as well as prohibiting the sale of wormwood-infused vodka. (This was separate from the ‘Absinthe makes people go mad’ thing).

    I always thought the mal- part was a reference to the taste (though I don’t know what I thought it referred to). But it seems it’s a side form of møl (moth). And a surprise for me: another Danish name for the same plant was Vermut, related somehow (though German) to the Old English word that was reshaped into modern wormwood — and via its German version, through French, the source of the name of the Vermouth used for cocktails.

  22. Part of the trouble is that wormwood is folk etymology, and has bad associations with rotten timbers and such.

  23. Piotr – in Russian чернобыльник is also used, as the name for A. vulgaris (just one species rather than the whole genus, and actually a less pungent one)

    Lars – life to learn, etymonline concurs. “Formerly used for flavor” doh…

  24. So the deworming is a myth! Or, who knows, maybe someone tried it, based on the folk etymology, and it does work…

  25. PS: And “чернобыльник” ~~ “dark-weed” is probably explained by the fact that unlike most sagebrushes, it has dark-green rather than silvery or light-color leaflets.

    BTW the same “one dark-colored species” rule is also true in Ukrainian, where the whole genus is also called Polyn, like in Russian

  26. PPS: at least by know LH may be in a position to do another update, as the smell of the once-obscure herb has become pretty clear 🙂

    The idea that the weed was growing in the rye-fields flew out of the window too. Its smell must have come from the pastures or the roadsides, bundled together with horses and hay. But I also wondered if Tolstoy’s estate was too far South to be in Russia’s rye country. LH got it right, winter rye was the #1 crop

  27. Here is another famous use of “полынь” in Turgenev’s opening of “Spring Torrents”: “Целый вечер он провел с приятными дамами, с образованными мужчинами; некоторые из дам были красивы, почти все мужчины отличались умом и талантами — сам он беседовал весьма успешно и даже блистательно… и, со всем тем, никогда еще то «taedium vitae», о котором говорили уже римляне, то «отвращение к жизни» — с такой неотразимой силой не овладевало им, не душило его. Будь он несколько помоложе — он заплакал бы от тоски, от скуки, от раздражения: горечь едкая и жгучая, как горечь полыни, наполняла всю его душу. Что-то неотвязчиво-постылое, противно-тяжкое со всех сторон обступило его, как осенняя, темная ночь; и он не знал, как отделаться от этой темноты, от этой горечи.”

    Here is Constance Garnett’s translation: “He had passed the whole evening in the company of charming ladies and cultivated men; some of the ladies were beautiful, almost all the men were distinguished by intellect or talent; he himself had talked with great success, even with brilliance . . . and, for all that, never yet had the taedium vitae of which the Romans talked of old, the ‘disgust for life,’ taken hold of him with such irresistible, such suffocating force. Had he been a little younger, he would have cried with misery, weariness, and exasperation: a biting, burning bitterness, like the bitter of wormwood, filled his whole soul. A sort of clinging repugnance, a weight of loathing closed in upon him on all sides like a dark night of autumn; and he did not know how to get free from this darkness, this bitterness.”

    Leonard Schapiro breaks Turgenev’s sentences into several parts, and here is how he translates “полынь”: “Had he been somewhat younger he would have burst into tears of frustration, boredom and irritation. He felt as if his soul were filled with hot and acrid smoke, like the smoke of wormwood. Like a dark autumn night, a sense of disgust enveloped him; something repulsive and insufferable engulfed him. Try as he would he could not shake it off, could not dispel all this darkness and the pungent smoke.” Bitterness is translated as “smoke” here. I prefer Constance Garnett’s translation.

  28. marie-lucie says

    both are exceptionally ugly words

    I don’t find them so. They sound intriguing. I like plant names ending in “wort”, such an old-fashioned word, recalling centuries of folk medicine, people walking around the countryside gathering armfuls or basketfuls of apparent “weeds” and drying them above the open fireplace. Nowadays this is hardly possible any more, there is too much air pollution along roads, and too much traffic except in really out-of-the-way places, and modern kitchens are not conducive to the drying process. Besides, most people don’t have enough contact with plants outside of supermarkets and florist shops to recognize them with any accuracy.

  29. marie-lucie says

    hot and acrid smoke, like the smoke of wormwood

    I learned from this thread that “wormwood” is a type of sage, related to the “sagebrush” of the American plains. Many tribes gather some sort of sage plant and smoke it in order to “purify” the inside of a tipi or house prior to some rituals (the smoke of this sage is indeed supposed to have some disinfectant property). Was this practiced in Russia too (perhaps in the distant past)?

  30. I have “Flora of Yasnaya Polyana” that includes 800 species described in 1807-1809 by Maria Volkonskaya, Tolstoy’s mother, who enjoyed botanizing. “Полынь” there is Artemisia Absinthium.

  31. m.-l., the sage that you use for purification is a plant of the genus salvia, and is not related to sagebrush.

  32. I prefer Constance Garnett’s translation

    So do I. She gets a bad rap (mainly from people who either have never read her or are simply put off by the slightly archaic style), but I often prefer her translations to more modern ones.

    I don’t find them so. They sound intriguing.

    I’m starting to come around to that opinion myself; the more I say them mentally, the less I feel my original distaste. Odd, that.

  33. David Marjanović says

    Down with Linnean prudery!

    Heh. Linnaeus was less prude than a whole bunch of his colleagues, who got pretty worked up over the fact that he repeatedly referred to plants having sexual organs.

    the genus salvia

    All genus names begin with a capital letter.

    I’m starting to come around to that opinion myself; the more I say them mentally, the less I feel my original distaste. Odd, that.

    There’s always “mug” as in “mugshot”…

  34. Of course, Salvia, and I would have liked to have written ‘Linnaean’, too. And maybe ‘prudery’ was not the exact word I was looking for…

  35. marie-lucie says

    Y: Salvia: thank you for the clarification.

  36. BTW the same “one dark-colored species” rule is also true in Ukrainian, where the whole genus is also called Polyn, like in Russian

    In Polish, the formal name of the genus Artemisia is bylica, and A. absinthium is bylica piołun to botanists, but “everybody else” (by which I mean people who can tell one plant from another), piołun may be applied to any species of Artemisia. The earlier form of the name (until the 17th century), still found dialectally, was piołyn. We find both *pelynъ and *polynъ in Slavic (sometimes a palatal stem too). An interesting name. Vasmer associates it with *polěti ‘burn’, but I think one of the old colour terms for ‘grey’ (*pe/ol(H)u-) is more likely to underlie it.

  37. Excuse the anacoluthon: … “everybody else” … may apply piołun

  38. David Marjanović says

    I would have liked to have written ‘Linnaean’, too

    Though the Linnean Society, based in London (and publishing important journals), doesn’t; it’s named after Linnaeus-after-he-was-ennobled-and-became-von-Linné. 🙂

  39. Wormwood in poetry:

    Cliff Klingenhagen

    Cliff Klingenhagen had me in to dine
    With him one day ; and after soup and meat,
    And all the other things there were to eat,
    Cliff took two glasses and filled one with wine
    And one with wormwood. Then, without a sign
    For me to choose at all, he took the draught
    Of bitterness himself, and lightly quaffed
    It off, and said the other one was mine.

    And when I asked him what the deuce he meant
    By doing that, he only looked at me
    And grinned, and said it was a way of his.
    And though I know the fellow, I have spent
    Long time a-wondering when I shall be
    As happy as Cliff Klingenhagen is.

    — Edwin Arlington Robinson

  40. In Polish, the formal name of the genus Artemisia is bylica

    In Russia, былинка ( like bylica apparently a diminutive to byl) means any blade of grass / stem of a herbaceous plant (and by extension a rail-thin human), and Drofa 2004 explains it from “to grow” ~~ “to be” (?). Of course after the Chernobyl disaster, much has been read and folk-etymologized about the Darkness and the Apocalypsis connections of “black weed / wormwood”, and even wiktionary now interprets “byl” in “chernobyl’nik” as “truth, true story”, making a leap to explain the whole word as “bad omen, a harbinger of evil”

  41. >>Malurt in Danish — the story goes that people would put A. absinthium in their moonshine to hide the taste of fusel oil and other things more harmful to their health than the alcohol itself, to a degree where it was seen as a public health problem in the late 19th century.

    I don’t know if you’re aware of it, but Malört is perversely popular in Chicago! Brought here by a Swede in the 1930’s. Haven’t had the balls to try it myself, though…

  42. any blade of grass / stem of a herbaceous plant

    I forgot to add that most Russian dictionaries define Artemisia vulgaris as a plant with dark-colored stems

    e.g. Ozhegov: разновидность полыни с красновато-бурыми или фиолетово-бурыми стеблями

    Shaposhnikov 2010 derives “bylina / bylinka” from PIE *bhu “to grow” (which is of course nearly the same as to derive it, following Ozhegov, from Slav. “byti” “to be”) and compares with Gr. φυλή “tribe (outgrowth, progeny)”, so common today as a part of “phylogeny”. Does this whole explanation signify some confusion between Greek words for “tribe” and for “leaf” (phyllon)??

  43. Russian “полынь”, like sagebrush, has only positive connotations

    Except, no doubt, among those who hate the nasty Asiatic vowel.

  44. Dmitri,

    *bylь ‘weed, herb’ has a scattered distibution in Slavic, but its collective form, *bylьje ‘vegetation, growth’ is (or at any rate used to be, historically) very widespread. Of course it’s derived from the root of be and bytь, i.e. *bʰuH- ‘grow, arise, become’. Etymologically, *čьrno-bylь is just ‘blackweed’.

  45. Not all wormwood is bitter:

    Artemisia annua, also known as sweet wormwood, sweet annie, sweet sagewort, annual mugwort or annual wormwood (Chinese: 青蒿; pinyin: qīnghāo), is a common type of wormwood native to temperate Asia, but naturalized in many countries including scattered parts of North America.

    sweet annie

  46. Jim (another one) says

    “I have never seen or heard the word “mugwort” used, so it has no associations (except for its remarkable ugliness).”

    It’s a variant of “moxa” the name of the herb when it is used for moxibustion, a traditional medical procedure in China and Japan.

    “But Russian “полынь”, like sagebrush, has only positive connotations, of the wild, wide open country, and of the nostalgic memories of the childhood, ”

    “Sagebrush” carries exactly those connotations, e.g The Sagebrush Rebellion. There was a Zane Grey novel “Riders of the Purple Sage” that traded on exactly those tropes.

  47. its collective form, *bylьje ‘vegetation, growth’ is (or at any rate used to be, historically) very widespread

    Thanks, Piotr! Doh – how did I get this blind spot for the much more common (although indeed becoming obsolete) collective form?! Of course in today’s Russian it’s preserved mostly as a proverb making a pun out of the two words of once-shared origin, “было да быльём поросло”

  48. жужжание

    Is the double жж common in Russian? I only took two semesters of Russian and have forgotten almost all of it, but I don’t remember seeing that before. How is it pronounced? From the translation, I’m guessing that жужжание is onomatopoeic? Anyway, I think it’s a cool-looking and -sounding word.

  49. How is it pronounced?

    The double ж is a long consonant, traditionally pronounced like the voiced counterpart of щ, i.e. palatalised to /ʑː/ (that’s how they taught me to pronounce it in my school days: /ʐʊˈʑːanʲɪjə/). I hope our resident native speakers of Russian will comment. I wonder how many people still have this pronunciation, rather than the innovative “hard” retroflex /ʐː/. The spelling жж is quite exceptional; the verb жужжать and its derivatives are of course onomatopeic. But this /ʑː/ pronunciation was also found in many words spelt with зж or жд (before a front vowel or ь, as in дождь ‘rain’), reflecting Proto-Slavic *zǯ (palatalised *zg) or *zdj. These days spelling-pronunciations such as /zʐ/ or /ʐdʲ/ often replace this old normative realisation.

  50. A small correction: in дождь pronounced in isolation the fricative would be devoiced to /ɕ(ː)/ in the type of pronunciation I’m describing. But all other case-forms (дожди etc.) would have /ʐː/.

  51. Is the double жж common in Russian?

    Not exactly common, but not uncommon either; cf. вожжи ‘reins,’ дрожжи ‘yeast,’ жжёт ‘burns,’ and -зж- is pronounced exactly the same, so позже ‘later’ is pronounced пожже. The old Moscow/stage/literary pronunciation was with soft (palatalized) ж, but according to my copy of Русское литературное произношение (4th ed., 1968, §60) the hard (unpalatalized) pronunciation is becoming more and more common.

  52. Took too long; pipped by Piotr.

  53. Script ж was always my favorite Cyrillic letter to write.

    Does anyone know of a good resource for helping English speakers with Russian phonetics? We had almost no instruction in this in my Russian classes in college and the distinction between ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ consonants remains totally opaque to me

  54. Literary palatalized жж has been dead even among Muscovites for quite some time, IMVHO.

    Of course when you ask this question, most Russians’ first reaction would be, how do you pronounce the acronym жж (which stands for livejournal, Russia’s top-choice blogging platform) 🙂

    Will is right on target BTW that this is not just onomatopoeic but also visually imitating the bugs.

  55. (and more recently “Olbanian” spelling underscored the loss of palatalization, e.g. the nearly-universally adopted “аффтар жжот” )

  56. And then there’s “Riders of the Purple Wage”. Anyone who enjoys language-play but finds Finnegan too far out should like it.

  57. The “hard” pronunciation used to be associated with Saint Petersburg (like the unsmoothed realisation of щ and a lamino-palatal affricate in что and конечно), but of course it’s no longer a shibboleth — or if it is, it’s with a twist:

    Только 7 % москвичей в слове «высокий» не смягчили «к», только 8 % не влепили «э» оборотное в заимствованные слова вроде «шинель». А что касается некогда типично московского «дощщь», то здесь мы перещеголяли и самих жителей культурной столицы — теперь «дошть» и «под дождём» вместо «дощщь» и «под дожжём» говорят 86 % москвичей и только 74 % петербуржцев[43].Различия_в_речи_москвичей_и_петербуржцев

    (See section 4, Современное состояние)

  58. marie-lucie says

    moxibustion, a traditional medical procedure in China and Japan.

    Not just there: it is still practiced among some people of the Northwest Coast (at least it was still practiced there 30-odd years ago).

  59. Both “mugwort” and “wormwood” are appealing words to me: homely rather than ugly. For me, “mugwort” might be closer to ugly. Of course, as others have said, for English speakers “wormwood” has distracting associations and “mugwort” is jarring by its unfamiliarity.

  60. Yes, I think it was its unfamiliarity that was making it seem ugly to me (a phenomenon easily noticed whenever peevers complain about a word new to them; cf. this post).

  61. It’s a variant of “moxa” the name of the herb when it is used for moxibustion, a traditional medical procedure in China and Japan.

    As far as I know, moxa comes from mogusa:
    From Japanese 艾 ‎(mogusa, “mugwort”). The u is not strongly pronounced in Japanese, leading to its disappearance and the devoicing of the plosive. First used by Hermann Buschoff, a Dutch minister in Batavia, who wrote the first book about this remedy in 1674.

  62. Yes, I think it was its unfamiliarity that was making it seem ugly to me

    There’s also a plant called wormwort (Dysphania ambrosioides, a.k.a. wormseed or epazote). Now that sounds even uglier. And epazote is a borrowing from Nahuatl, epazōtl ‘skunk’s spray’. That smells ugly!

  63. But epazote is delicious!

  64. Anyone whose mind is a blank when Wormwood is mentioned has clearly never been to prison. It always reminds me of George Blake, the KGB spy. The Scrubs that surround the Victorian castle is London’s bleakest public park.

  65. Well, in the UK, anyway.

    In Hell canto 28, Dante asks a Bolognese “Ma che ti mena a sì pungenti salse?” literally “What brings you to such pungent sauces?”, i.e. great pains. But there was a valley named Salse near Bologna where the bodies of condemned criminals were disposed of; consequently, the Sayers translation makes Dante ask “What wormwood pickled such a rod to scrub thy back?” (Dante addresses almost everyone in Hell with T forms, as they are his inferiors in their present (and permanent) situation.)

  66. @e-k, sorry I missed your comment until now — that’s cool, especially since the tradition of drinking deworming tincture for fun seems to be totally dead and forgotten here in Sweden. And may never have existed in Denmark.

    Sigfred Pedersen gets the last word:

    Dengang var Brændevin hver Mands Eje,
    thi den var billig og den var ram.
    Men Malurt voksed langs alle Veje,
    og gav Kulør til en Fusel-Dram.
    O Soldebrødre, o Lurifakse,
    I drak jer tumpet, fra Vid og Sans.
    Men jeg sleb Knive, og jeg sleb Sakse,
    og plukked Malurt omkring Sankt Hans.

    Recording by Hans Kurt, b. 1909

  67. marie-lucie says


    By a coincidence, today the linguist Amy Dahlstrom posted on Facebook a picture of a showy flower which she had used earlier and planned to reuse in a class about Names. She asked viewers if they recognized the flower and could give its name, adding that she already knew it and this was a test to see how suitable the name would be for a person. The flower was a kind of purplish red snapdragon. Nobody knew the name, except an Italian woman who said this was an Artemisia, it was very popular in italy and its name was fairly common as a woman's name. Having already read this LH thread and looked up the plant on Wikipedia, I knew for sure that this snapdragon could not possibly be wormwood/mugwort, and advised Amy to look up the Artemisiae.

    Since there is no way anyone could confuse any of the Artemisiae (members of the same family as the Asters) with a snapdragon, I guessed that the name must have been transferred to the showy flower at some point. The popularity of the name of the plant as a woman's name must have arisen from the plant's medicinal properties, not its appearance. Later it must have seemed a shame for Italians to waste such a beautiful name on a plant of rather modest appearance, little known except to herbalists, and instead it was bestowed on the showy snapdragon (for popular use, not for that of botanists).

  68. Hard to say about snapdragon, “bocca di leone” in Italian (calqued in Russian). The only “other” Artemisia I found in Italian botany books was feverfew, Pyrethrum parthenium (a daisy-like compound)

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