Sunday, March 15, 2015

The World's Largest Flowering Plant Patiently Explains The Correct Spelling Of "Wistaria"

Wistaria plant to the world: "Deal with it."
(Mod: Please note - The Wistaria plant is not a happy camper even on his best day. Anything we have gotten from him in the past has always been irascible and snarky. I'm afraid today's post is more of the same. Perhaps it's the drought. I'm printing this anyway, but I'll warn you. He is not very decorous. My apologies.)

The World's Largest Flowering Plant speaks out: I cannot believe that the Mayor and that Mayor Pro Tem of his do not know the origin of the spelling of "Wistaria" that is used in Sierra Madre. I find this to be quite upsetting and inexcusable, and the time to set the record straight is now. The answer is actually quite simple. It is because "Wistaria" is the correct way of spelling it. Here is how they completely messed this up in the Pasadena Star News the other day (link):

Mayor Pro Tem Capoccia is profoundly wrong here. This is hardly a local quaint eccentricity committed for no other good reason except to lure overly credulous people from the 210 Freeway and remove the money from their pockets. Here is how the Oxford University Press and their New Dictionary of Eponyms explains the actual reason for the spelling "Wistaria" (link).

The wisteria is a climbing woody vine clustered with drooping, pealike, purplish or white flowers. The name of this vine was given by Thomas Nuttal, curator of Harvard's Botanical Garden, who made an error in spelling the name of the man he planned to honor. That man's name was Wistar. But at the death of the honoree in 1818, the plant was named wisteria. Nuttal wrote in his General North American Plants II, "In memory of Caspar Wistar, M.D., late professor of Anatomy in the University of Pennsylvania." But too late, Nuttal had already named the plant wisteria. Later writers followed the error, thus perpetuating it.

With the notable exception of these two errant political figures, Sierra Madre actually has this one right. The correct spelling is Wistaria. It is the rest of the world that is wrong. Hardly the first time that has happened.

Please, let's get this right.

This has been a matter of some controversy throughout the years, however. Here is how the imbroglio was dealt with in the 1934 edition of The Big Book of Beastly Mispronunciations: The Complete Opinionated Guide. The author is Charles Harrington Elster.

Pointless pendanticism or not, it would appear that we are still suffering the consequences of an unfortunate spelling error, one that has led to nearly two centuries of controversy. Here is how this is further explained by Bryan A. Garner in his always informative "Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day"(link).

Americans are often surprised to learn that the flowery vine was named “wistaria” (after Caspar Wistar, an anatomist), not “wisteria.” A prominent etymologist calls the change in spelling “apparently a misprint” in 1819. Robert K. Barnhart, Dictionary of Etymology 885 (1995). The original does still show up in American print sources, but usually in proper nouns — e.g.: “Last month they celebrated the annual Wistaria Festival in honor of a sprawling 114-year-old vine that is recognized as one of the world’s largest blossoming plants.” Joe Mozingo, “Fire Looms over Sierra Madre,” L.A. Times, 29 Apr. 2008, at B3. Even when California papers are reporting on the Wistaria Festival, though, they spell the plant name “wisteria.”

The Oxford English Dictionary favors “wistaria,” but American dictionaries list it as a variant spelling. It is so uncommon in American English that some writers feel compelled to comment on it — e.g.: “[W.D.] Rose promised that the drink would ‘conjure up visions . . . of wistaria [sic] blooming in old patios, of sights and smells associated only with the Vieux Carre.’” Amanda Hesser, “1935: Ramos Gin Fizz,” N.Y. Times, 15 June 2008, at MM67 (ellipsis and “[sic]” notation are in the original).

I hope this clears things up.

Speaking of a more consistent source for unfortunate errors

If you were following the Board of Education District 6 election returns last Tuesday evening on the Mountain Views News twitter feed, you would have been rudely exposed to the following mathematical impossibility.

Unless we are looking at an instance of massive voter fraud (and considering that Pasadena did the actual counting perhaps this should be looked into), it is a mathematical impossibility to have an election results totaling 104.9% of the vote. No matter how loaded you might have been.

This was not just one instance. Here is how the Dotty Doyenne of Malapropism related this news on her lightly viewed MVN Facebook page.

I don't know what is worse, the repeated misspellings of Sandi Siraganian's name, or the fact that Susan Henderson (a woman who has repeatedly fibbed about having a law degree from UC Berkeley  - link) seems baffled by even the simplest of math. That 6 lost souls "liked" this is a bad sign as well. Perhaps somebody needs to check the water.

The snark about negative campaign tactics is revealing, however. Perhaps we now know the source of those anonymous mailings done on behalf of the convicted drunk driver?


  1. That extra 4.9% votes cast comes from Pasadena voters who went to the polls more than once.

  2. Who are the six people who liked the math?

    1. Tonja Torres, Nichole Rinker, Meegan Tosh, Renee M Gruss, Margaret Luczaj Quigley and Hugo Arteaga. But what is probably worse, 8 people shared it. It is like a bad math virus.

    2. Hendernometry.

    3. That explains why the PUSD only has 10 out of 33 schools performing at the minimum level the state requires. The status quo is alive and well. And they wonder why parents don't want to place their children in the publics schools.

    4. I decided to vote for Torres when I started getting postcard after postcard from Saraganian describing how horrible he is. Moderator, was this not a negative campaign? Also, a DUI 20-25 years ago? That reminds me of the other side trying to smear MaryAnn MacGillivray because she attended church twice a week - find something relevant!

    5. You equate drunken driving with church attendance?

    6. No, I equate nastiness with nastiness, and irrelevancy!

    7. I guess the truth still hurts, 11:45. The Torres camp ran one of the nastiest campaigns this city has ever seen. And when you consider some of the campaigns we've seen the crazy lady's club run in the past, that is saying quite a bit.

    8. Pot - Kettle - Black, 11:45. If you want to see some of that nastiness you speak of, go take a good long look in the mirror.

    9. 11:45 is right.

    10. I agree, 3:19. The Torres people ran a hateful campaign. And now they're ashamed of it.

    11. 11:45 looks really good in tin foil.

  3. Can someone explain the phenomenon known as Whysteria?

  4. Nobody cares how it is spelled as long as a lot of people show up !

  5. I don't understand why all the Hystaria over the Wistaria.

  6. NJ cops bust teenagers shoveling snow without a permit


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