A couple of months ago, The Word Hound brought you news of messages sometimes hidden in the placement of postage stamps on a postcard. This month we’ll do a little rudimentary decoding of the Language of Flowers.
The Language of Flowers (or floriography—cryptological communication via the choice or arrangement of flowers in a bouquet or other display) was already ancient in the time of the Old Testament. Shakespeare was well acquainted with it; it often figures in his plays. It reached craze-status in Victorian England. Every little flower had a meaning all its own and, for a time, creating dictionaries that decoded the Language of Flowers was a cottage industry in the UK and America.
The Language of Flowers got a big revival at the 2011 wedding of Kate Middleton to the future King of England. The bride’s bouquet was composed of Lily-Of-the-Valley (return of happiness) Sweet William (for Prince William, gallantry) Hyacinth (constancy of love) Ivy (fidelity; friendship; affection) and Myrtle (emblematic of wedded love). For additional significance, Kate’s bouquet contained stems of a Myrtle planted by Queen Victoria in 1845 and a sprig from a plant grown from the Myrtle used in Queen Elizabeth’s wedding bouquet in 1947.
You would expect the bride’s flowers to all have loving and optimistic meanings but to the Victorians, flowers could also convey negative thoughts. You wouldn’t want to receive Yellow Carnations from your sweetie; a Yellow Carnation represented rejection. Yellow flowers seem to have been unpopular, whatever the species. A Yellow Hyacinth represented jealousy, a Yellow Chrysanthemum was code for slighted love. Still worse, the purple-blue Monks-hood warned of a deadly foe nearby.
As one wit on the Internet wrote, “once you know that Peonies represent anger, Basil, hatred and Red Carnations heartbreak, every supermarket bouquet takes on a new significance.”
The Word Hound welcomes readers’ questions, comments, favorite words and suggestions for future columns.