Uncommon Knowledge

Uncommon Knowledge: What does your nosegay say about you?

May 8, 2013

Is your nosegay sweet and sentimental? Seeking for glory? Or out for revenge? And why such a strange name for a seemingly innocent little bouquet of flowers? The word originated in the 15th century, when the term “gay” meant “ornament.” So a nosegay is a decoration designed to appeal to the nose as much as the eyes. The Victorians, however, were ready to sniff out all kinds of meaning from their bouquets. Each flower had its own meaning, and could be combined into elaborate, symbolic messages. We still accept that a red rose means “passion” or “romance,” but you could also use amaranth for “eternal love,” jasmine for “unconditional love,” and jonquil as a cry of unrequited love. Not all nosegays were romantic, however. Asphodel signaled regret, begonia was a warning, and red clover symbolized an industrious nature. Wishing to end a relationship? Present your companion with a bouquet of “cold-hearted” lettuce.

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