Wednesday, 10 June 2009


“Sumer is icumen in, Lhude sing cuccu!” - English round, ca 1260 CE

The ragged robin, Lychnis flos-cuculi, is the birthday plant for this day. The generic name is derived from the Greek word, lychnos = lamp, in reference to the bright flowers of this herb. The specific name means “cuckoo flower” in Latin and refers to flowering of the plant when the cuckoo is in full song. In the language of flowers, it symbolises wit and ardour.

It is St Barnabas’ Day today and this is the saint invoked in disputes, as he is a peacemaker saint who resolves arguments amicably. On his feast day, houses and churches were decorated with Barnaby garlands. These were made of roses, Sweet Woodruff and Ragged Robin. The garlands “hanged up in the houses in the heat of Summer, doth very well attemper the air, cool and make fresh the place, to the delight and comfort of such as are therein.” (Gerard, Herbal).

The ragged robin, Lychnis flos-cuculi, is said to bloom on this day when the cuckoo is in full song (flos-cuculi means “cuckoo-flower”). The plant is dedicated to St Barnabas:

When Saint Barnabie bright smiles night and daie
Poor ragged robin blossom in the haie.

Traditionally, this day is the one for the hay harvest, as another couplet attests:

On the feast of Barnabas
Put the scythe to grass.

Barnaby bright, Barnaby bright
Light all day and light all night.

In the days before the Gregorian reformation of the calendar, St Barnabas’s Day coincided with the Summer Solstice as it fell 11 days later. The rhyme recalls this, which is the longest day of the year. Especially important in the Northernmost countries where it can be light well into the small hours of the night.

For Word Thursday today, rather aptly:

onomatopoeia |ˌänəˌmatəˈpēə| noun
The formation of a word from a sound associated with what is named (e.g., cuckoo, sizzle).
• The use of such words for rhetorical effect.

onomatopoeic |-ˈpē-ik|| or onomatopoetic |-pōˈetik| adjective
onomatopoeically |-ˈpē-ik(ə)lē| or onomatopoetically |-pōˈetik(ə)lē| adverb

ORIGIN: Late 16th century, via late Latin from Greek onomatopoiia ‘word-making,’ from onoma, onomat- ‘name’ + -poios ‘making’ (from poiein ‘to make’).

Jacqui BB hosts Word Thursday.

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