IV: it lives still

Duane Campbell dcamp911 at JUNO.COM
Sun Oct 6 01:19:45 UTC 2002

On Sat, 5 Oct 2002 13:19:59 -0700 Arnold Zwicky

> from the 5 october 2002 Palo Alto Daily News, a garden column
> (provided by a service, i think, not written locally) by lee reich,
> "Getting the creeps", about virginia creeper:
>     In fact, the word "ivy" lacks precise botanical meaning,
>   and is applied to any number of vining plants.  Virginia creeper
>   has also been called "ivy" - "American ivy," by the British.
>   But it's neither ivy nor Virginia creeper that led to the name
>   "Ivy League."  That name came about because there were originally
>   only four Ivy League colleges, and "four" in Roman numerals is
> IV.

Aside from his mistaken derivation of Ivy League, Lee Reich is also
wrong, or at best foggy, about ivy. Ivy is ivy, genus Hedera, and people
involved with plants at anything beyond the most superficial level know

The fields of botany and horticulture can provide an interesting paradigm
for linguists. There are in essence two separate parallel languages, and
those of us involved in the field slip from one into another almost
without distinction, unless we are very careful.

Reich is almost right when he says that the word "ivy" lacks botanical
meaning. In fact, the word does not exist in the botanical language,
which is so prescriptive that there is actually a Congress that sets the
usage rules. There is Hedera and Parthemocissus and Senecio and
Cymbalaria and Rhus and more.

On the other hand, say "ivy" to any botanist or horticulturist and he
knows exactly what you mean -- Hedera. Not Boston ivy or Swedish ivy or
German ivy or Virginia creeper. That is, unless the word is spoken by
someone fairly ignorant about plants, in which case it is necessary to
ask a series of questions to find out what the person is talking about.
If you can.

There are many similar examples. Geranium to a botanist is a very
different plant from the geranium sold at KMart. A serious gardener knows
that lilies are lilies, Lilium, and not daylilies or calla lilies or ...
well, you get the point.

Mr. Reich is confused. And he is not helping his readers understand the
differences in botanical and common nomenclature.


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