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Vol. 5(11), pp. 5The McAllen International Orchid Society JournalNovember 2004

Review -- A Glossary of Botanic Terms

R J Ferry

Jackson, B. D. 1900. A Glossary of Botanic Terms. with their derivation and accent. (4th ed., 1928, revised and enlarged; reprinted January, 1953). New York: Hafner Publishing Company, Inc. 481 pp.

Fig. 5. Jackson, B. D. Title page: "A Glossary of Botanic Terms." Digital photo by the author, 04 November, 2004.

Generally, one is not expected to sit and read a dictionary or glossary with the same degrees of fascination one might expect from the time spent with a novel or book of poetry. In fact, the individual who does so probably runs the risk of "normal" individuals harboring suspicions about his mental stability, ... or--at the very least--his ability to "fit in" with everyday society. Fortunately, most orchid enthusiasts are already regarded by "normal" individuals as some what suspect, so owning and perusing this book will probably not make much difference to societal evaluations concerning you, should you manage to acquire this tome.

It was first published in May, 1900. The first edition was published by Gerald Duckworth & Co. Ltd of 3, Henrietta Street, London, W.C.2. It was written (compiled, actually) by Benjamin Daydon Jackson, Knight of the Polar Star, Ph.D. (Upsal), Emeritus Secretary of the Linnean Society of London. In short, this is a work from the days when botanists actually spoke English, ... when Greek and Latin were well studied and well understood, ... and scholarship was an attribute to be desired, not scorned! Consider: how long have you lived with "ordinary everyday" conversation (at least within the United States!), and inwardly cringed as virtually everything is described as either "neat," "cool" or, on occasion, (even worse!) "funky?" As your editor, I ask, honestly now, what in the devil is the meaning of the term "funky?!!?" Please don't attempt an answer, ... there are some vocabularial swamps into which your editor would prefer not to enter. Actually, in all candor, this current societal vocabularial lack-of-ability-to-express-one's-self brings to mind the words of Professor Henry Higgins of "My Fair Lady" fame:

"There even are places where English completely disappears! Within America, they haven't used it for years!"

If, however, you are the sort of orchidist who has experienced a tendency toward after-dinner cramps at the above sort of everyday language, you will be delighted with the vintage verbal wines to be quaffed from this book! In addition, make no mistake: the terms offered in this glossary are by no means obsolete, although some are all-but-unknown within the United States in this, the 21st Century! Nevertheless, for those of us inclined to work with oekiophytes, this volume can certainly be an aid to better expression of one's botanical self!

p. 255: "oek-iophytes (οικιον, a dwelling; φυτον, a plant), native cultivated plants for ornament or use (Naegeli and Thellung)"

By now--reading all the above--you may well be certain your editor has slipped a mental hinge, but, in all seriousness, this little book is an excellent aid to understanding many of the terms encountered when reading the serious botanical literature! As well, if you can find one of the reprinted copies, it's relatively inexpensive at somewhere around twenty five to thirty dollars via a few of the better-known purveyors of old books. In sum, this volume is an asset to the library of the orchidist seriously interested in proper terminology, adequate expression, and the clarification of terms encountered in (particularly) much of the historical and well-written modern literature.

Interestingly, as this month's issue of the MIOS Journal was being put together, another book arrived. It was the English translation of Schlecter's 1914 work of the Orchidaceae of German New Guinea (Die Orchidaceen von Deutsch-Neu-Guinea). This heavy book (1181 pages!) was published in 1982 by the Australian Orchid Foundation, and although the translators might have reconstructed sentences into more modern English, they wisely chose to retain the quaint Schlecterian style as faithfully as possible without sacrificing accuracy of observation and botanical description. Equally, the B. Daydon Jackson Glossary can see occasional use when reading works published much closer to home, such as the Reports of the Michigan Academy of Science from 1901-1906. Your editor suggests this book not just as a "collector's item," but as one that--despite having been compiled nearly a century ago--still has practical value.

Copyright © 2004 R J Ferry