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March 20, 2004



Here's another place to learn about botanical Latin: http://www.taunton.com/finegardening/pages/spg017.asp

Bookish Gardener

Thanks for the link, Kathy! Just goes to show that it's a big tent--lots of room for interpretation. They say hy-"drain"-gea, and hel-LEB-orus. Now, as the expert, do you favor KOHL-chi-kum (Fine Gardening's) or KOL-ki-kum (the Encyclopedia's)?


I have always pronounced it KOHL-chi-kum, not because I know better, but because it never occurred to me it could be pronounced any other way. But I have always found it an awkward word, especially when compared to some of its common names: naked ladies, naked boys, sons-before-the-father, to name a few. However, I avoid the most common common name, autumn crocus, not only because it is botanically incorrect, but confusing, because there are bona fide crocuses that do bloom in autumn. So I am stuck saying colchicum, because I am not brazen enough to say, "Want to see my naked ladies in the back yard?"


I am working on a project to complete my certification for becoming a Master Gardener. While taking the course, there were many times I had to leave the 700+ page core manual for my even larger dictionary, because I wanted to pronounce the words correctly when asking the instructor a question. Here I assumed that "cation" was pronounced "K-shun", and even though I asked an intelligent question about cations, the instructor first corrected my pronunciation: "KAT-ion". I looked it up later and sure enough, he was right. As a result, my burning desire developed: add a pronunciation guide to the glossary of the Master Gardener Core Manual for Michigan State University. I had enthusiastic response from many of my peers and my project was approved by the woman in charge, who was also enthused and praised me for taking on the challenge. Most MG students choose to spend their 40 hours planting seedlings or pulling weeds! Go figure, gardeners who want to garden. But my mission is to make it easier for gardeners--especially those of us in the academic end of the field--to talk with one another. Gardening can be a solitary, nearly wordless activity, and is sometimes socially isolating as such. We'd all rather have our hands in the soil than thumbing through a dictionary.
Which brings me to my question, really a plea for help so I can complete this and get outdoors: does anyone have a standardized key to a "sounds like" pronunciation guide for botanical words? I can guess, but would rather use an established guide. I do not want to use the tradition phonetic key, and neither do my instructors. We want to make it as easy on the students as possible to absorb the text, not wonder weather what sound that upside-down e makes.
I have the Latin Guide that Fine Gardening provides--it is great for those words. But I need the English word pronunciations, not Latin. For instance, "cotyledons".
Oops, a message on my screen says this site has to close. I don't want to lose all that I've written here, but apologize for the lack of proofreading. Will eagerly anticipate some advice on finding a "sounds like" botanical word guide.

Chan S.

Hi, Kimberly - thanks for writing, and sorry for the technical difficulties, but your comment made it through fine. That's an intriguing project, and I never really focused on pronunciation difficulties with non-Latin botanical words before, although they certainly can be challenging (which is why I pronounce COTYLEDON "seed leaves"). It looks like you might be looking for a couple of different things: one, a central repository that includes authoritative pronunciation guidance for most (or ideally all) of the words in your botanical glossary; and two, to have the pronunciation guide for each word in an accessible format (i.e. without the standard pronunciation key conventions). It seems to me that soundfiles would be the way to go, if your glossary is online (or has an online format in addition to a print format), and Merriam-Webster (http://www.m-w.com/) includes pronunciation with their definitions, including lots of scientific terms (I didn't do an exhaustive search, but found they had soundfiles for, yes, cotyledon, and dioecious, and epiphytic, just as examples). If you are looking for a print convention alternative to the traditional pronunciation key, the one they use in Horticulture magazine seems to do the trick, although I'm not familiar with the official name (if there is one) of the phonetic pronunciation convention they use. Good luck!

dhyan atkinson

I just wanted to say that I also own this fine book and my best friend and I reluctantly surrender custody, read aloud, and use it for reference on all kinds of things. I am looking for a copy for her birthday so I can keep the book on my self!

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