The Symbolism of Flowers

Watch out: If you’re given a red geranium, the gift might not have good intentions.

Flowers, especially in the Victorian era, often have hidden (and sometimes not-so-hidden) symbolism. Red geraniums just happen to carry an insult: they mean “stupidity”.

But worry not, most popular flowers today have positive messages. And with spring just around the corner, it would be helpful to know these messages.

Floriography, the language of flowers, communicates messages through flower arrangements.

While France hit a floriography phase in the first half of the 19th century, the practice was most common in the Victorian era in Britain, at the time when lack of modesty was frowned upon and subtlety and tact had to go a long way for communication. Victorian men courting women used flowers to say to their beloved what they would not outright say in front of her parents or chaperones.

 

A vintage advertisement featuring chrysanthemums.

A vintage advertisement featuring chrysanthemums, symbols for optimism or joy.

Flowers can mean more than one thing, depending on the symbol guide you check. But usually it’s not hard to get to the bottom of their meaning.

Want to know what your flowers mean? Here’s a cheat sheet for some of the more common flowers:

Azalea – abundance
Crocus – youth
Daffodil – chivalry
Daisy – innocence
Freesia – spirited
Forget-Me-Not – remember me forever (as if that one wasn’t obvious)
Gardenia – joy
Hydrangea – perseverance
Jasmine – grace and elegance
Lavender – distrust
Lilac – first love
Rhododendron – beware
Pink Rose – friendship
Red Rose – passionate love
White Rose – purity
Yellow Rose – zealous or jealousy
Sunflower – adoration
Violet – faithfulness

Note the less savory symbols, like Lavender’s “distrust”. Other such insults include Amaryllis’s “haughtiness”, Peony’s “anger”, and Yellow Carnation’s “you have disappointed me.”

Flowers have been used as symbolism in art and literature as well. Authors including Shakespeare, Jane Austen, and Emily Bronte used flower language in their works, and Pre-Raphaelites commonly used symbolic flowers in their pieces, like in John Everett Millais’s painting Ophelia.

Sources:

More extensive list of flower symbolism

Wikipedia

The Illustrations of Edmund Dulac

Edmund Dulac changed the art world as we know it.

A select few illustrators make up what we now refer to as the “golden age of illustration”, a time period between 1880s-1920s of superb book, magazine, and newspaper illustrations. Illustrated books became a favorite media at the time, leading to long-living, valued illustrations that are still favorites today. We’ve written about Arthur Rackham, but the other illustrators also deserve recognition.

Another such illustrator from the golden age was Edmund Dulac, a French artist.

Although Dulac started his studies in law, he quickly became bored and switched to studying art full-time. This seems like a good idea in retrospect, considering he was able to get his first commission at the young age of 22, for 60 illustrations in an edition of Jane Eyre. Dulac soon moved to London to continue his career.

The Princess and the Pea (Via super freeparking on Flickr)

The Princess and the Pea (Via super freeparking on Flickr)

The company Hodder & Stoughton purchased the rights to his paintings, which they used in their illustrated books. These books were published once a year.

Dulac’s favorite subjects to illustrate were fantasy and fiction elements from classic stories. He illustrated such stories as Stories from The Arabian Nights, The Tempest by William Shakespeare, The Sleeping Beauty and Other Fairy Tales, Stories from Hans Christian Anderson, and The Bells and Other Poems by Edgar Allan Poe.

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Shakespeare’s Comedy of The Tempest, illustrated by Dulac and available here in a rare edition.

Dulac strayed away from the more popular colored ink drawings at the time (a technique used most notably by Arthur Rackham). Instead, he used his preference for painting to let color define the subject. The new printing presses at the time were conveniently ready just in time to accommodate the color separation.

Dulac’s technique changed in the mid-1910s, when his illustrations went from romantic, subdued colors into more oriental styles.

Illustration for Quatrain LXXII of the Rubaiyat (Via super freeparking on Flickr)

Illustration for Quatrain LXXII of the Rubaiyat (Via super freeparking on Flickr)

The golden age of illustration came to an end after the first World War. People were no longer entranced by these illustrated books. Dulac had no choice but to move on to other subjects.

And move on he did, going on to work on such things as newspaper caricatures, portraits, theater design, bookplates, and much more.

He also designed postage stamps for Great Britain, including contributions to the first stamps of the reign of Queen Elizabeth II.

Book editions with Dulac’s work can still be found today, and they have aged well, still acting as timeless examples of illustration’s golden age.

Sources:

Illustrators

Wikipedia

Who Coined the Phrase “Coin a Phrase”?

You hear it a lot when referring to other idioms – so-and-so coined the phrase “cat’s pajamas” and such – but where did “coin the phrase” itself come from?

To coin a phrase” means to invent a new phrase or, more commonly today, to precede a cliched or ironic phrase.

“So shall my Lungs Coine words till their decay.” -Shakespeare

The phrase “coining” refers, as you might imagine, to making coins by stamping metal with a die. The dies that stamped the metal were called coins and the “coined” money eventually took the word as their name.

art-of-poesie - dead white dude

”Coin” had many different spellings in the 16th century, including coyne, coign , coigne, and quoin.

In the 16th century “coining” also transferred to the subject of language. At the time, people often counterfeited coins and coining words meant creating false phrases, putting their own stamp on questionable word choices.

A good example of this comes from George Puttenham’s The arte of English poesie:

“Young schollers not halfe well studied…will seeme to coigne fine wordes out of the Latin.”

And one of the earliest uses of the exact term “coin a phrase” is found in the newspaper The Southport American in 1848:

“Had we to find…a name which should at once convey the enthusiasm of our feelings towards her, we would coin a phrase combining the extreme of admiration and horror and term her the Angel of Assassination.”

It seems the phrase has stuck around.