Waspish OED

Photo credit: Norbert Nagel.
Used under this licence.

The plant to the left is French Lavender. There seems to be some disagreement over its scientific name. I have found references to Lavandula angustifolia and to Lavandula stœchas, both of which are called French Lavender. I am not sure if these are supposed to be the same plant or not. No matter. The name cassidony is or was once applied to one or all of these. Here is what the online OED has to say about the word.

Pronunciation: /ˈkæsɪdənɪ/
Etymology: Of uncertain etymology: suggestions are that it is the same word as cassidoine n.1, or of the same derivation.
(Skinner’s guess that it might be a corruption of *Stœchas sidonius labours under the fatal objection that no such name is known.)


4 Responses to “Waspish OED”

  1. Mark says:

    That’s a fun bit of waspishness. One of Murray’s own, perhaps? The ‘Skinner’ in question is Stephen Skinner (1623-1667), physician and lexicographer, and given the period he was working the OED comment seems particularly ungenerous!

    Lavandula angustifolia is the scientific name for ‘English’ lavender (not originally native to England, of course), while L. stœchas is indeed the name for French lavender. The history of the word is an interesting one, since this botanical usage is, as far as I can see, completely unattested for continental varieties of Old and Middle (and indeed Modern) French, nor is it found in the Anglo-Norman Dictionary or the Middle English Dictionary or the Dictionary of Older Scots. Nor is the sense found for (Middle) Dutch cassidonie (also a borrowing from French). Assuming the words are the same – and the forms strongly suggest it – We are presumably dealing therefore with an English innovation which first comes into common use in the sixteenth century.

    Chalcedony comes in a variety of colours, including some which could be said to resemble that of lavender – but that shade certainly wouldn’t be the first colour I would think of if hearing the word ‘chalcedony’ (my associations would be more alabaster, whitish or pinkish). Indeed, some of the yellow plants – OED’s sense two – seem a more likely association for the word (and a quick look at some of those 16th/17th century herbals shows that there seem to have been a wider array of associations).

    One thing the OED entry on cassidony doesn’t refer to is the fact that a ‘corrupted’ form of this term was also in use in sixteenth and seventeenth-century English: ‘cast-me-down’.

    An alternative fun name for French lavender, which you will find in OED, is ‘stickadove’, earlier ‘stechados’, which derives from the genitive form of Latin stœchas, deriving from the Stœchades islands where, according to Pliny, the plant grew (now the Îles d’Hyères off the S. coast of France) – Greek Στοιχάδες ‘in rows’.

  2. It is hard to imagine anywhere else where such a simple initial comment could lead to such a wealth of information in reply. Sadly the chances of any of these newly-learned facts forming the basis for a quiz question are vanishingly small, at least in the quiz circles that I frequent …

  3. John Maidment says:


    Thank you for your most interesting comment. In the light of the information about Skinner that you provide I agree that the OED comment does seem a little unkind.

  4. JWL says:

    I’d prefer to call the ‘fatal objection’ wording ‘blunt’ rather than ‘waspish’ but it certainly was used by Murray who began OED’s publication on 1882 not being joined by his first co-worker until Bradley began letter E in 1888.

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