March 11, 2008

#01-083: Say It with Flowers

color illustration in art deco style of a woman surrounded by a swirl of flowers
"The Language of Flowers"

Note: Learn to speak the "secret language" of flowers, a way to express one's feeling using their type, color, number, or even arrangement.

Get Ready: What's your favorite flower? Do you know what it symbolizes?

In mid-February, men often buy flowers for their women (and sometimes vice-versa!). In China, the number of flowers is symbolic: 11 means "One Heart One Thought," and 19 is a wish for the longevity of the relationship.

But flowers have another language. Believe it or not, that language has a name: floriography, or flower writing.

English people in the Victorian Age often knew this language by heart, and would choose flowers to create a secret message. In those days, society's rules prevented people from speaking their true feelings; sending the right flowers became a way to say what you felt without breaking the rules.

The language had several elements. One was the condition of the flowers: Giving wilted flowers, for instance, meant, "I don't love you."

Another variation was the color. Take carnations: they generally meant affection; health and energy; and fascination. But purple carnations meant changeability; a solid color meant yes, and a striped color no; white was innocence and pure love, but yellow was rejection.

More famous was the choice of flowers themselves. Here is a list of the meanings of some more common flowers:

  • azalea: be careful 
  • buttercup: cheerfulness 
  • camellia: perfection
  • daffodil: respect
  • daisy: innocence
  • iris: faith
  • lily: unwanted visitors stay away
  • marigold: comforts the heart
  • narcissus: egotism
  • orchid: beauty
  • sunflower: loyalty
  • tulip: fame
  • violet: modesty

Some of these meanings are still found in common expressions, such as "fresh as a daisy" (fresh can mean innocent, untroubled) and "a shrinking violet" (to shrink can mean to be shy). And Narcissus, of course, was a famously egotistic man.

Perhaps the most versatile "speaker" of the flower language was the rose: color, number (single, bouquet, garland), condition (bud or fully-opened), and type (tea, cabbage, etc.) all have different meanings.

Red roses, of course, practically shout I LOVE YOU! White says that the love is innocent and eternal; pink is for happiness; and red and white signifies unity. But a black rose means Death.

If a rose has no thorns, it indicates love at first sight; a single rose means, "I still love you"; a rose bud means beauty and youth; and a full garland or crown of roses is a reward for virtue.

Tea roses signify remembrance; cabbage roses are ambassadors of love (first contact?); a Christmas rose says "I'm worried; comfort me"; and the hibiscus rose indicates delicate beauty.

In an old advertisement, an American florists' association urged buyers to "Say It with Flowers." Too bad most of us have forgotten the language!


Read more:

Practice: Match the flower to the behavior described below:

  1. buttercup
  2. camellia
  3. daffodil
  4. daisy
  5. lily
  6. narcissus
  7. orchid
  8. sunflower
  9. tulip
  10. violet

  1. is always faithful, and never cheats on a lover
  2. thinks he or she is the best person in the whole world
  3. never makes mistakes
  4. finds it hard to talk to others
  5. always happy and smiling, a "sunny disposition"
  6. people say "whoa!" when they see him or her
  7. calls everyone "ma'am" and "sir," and is always polite
  8. always has a "Do Not Disturb" sign on the door
  9. people are always asking for his or her autograph
  10. still loves teddy bears and music boxes--even at age 30

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for March 11, 2008 (before a Chinese follow-up to Valentine's Day)

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. e; 2. c; 3. g; 4. j; 5. h; 6. b; 7. f; 8. a; 9. i; 10. d