Nov 27, 2015

A Stranger in a Strange Land

Why I often feel like
A Stranger in a Strange Land

So, I’m researching Penstemon rupicola because I have two plants that are the result of a cross between it and Penstemon speciosus var. kennedyi and wanted to compare the physical characteristics of both. I was mildly surprised by the lack of information on this particular species (despite all the books and the internet!), but finally found a reference and read that it grows in depressed mats with flowering stems glabrous, petioles densely canescent, the inflorescence glandular-pubescent, herbage glaucous. Leaves elliptic to orbicular . . . petioled, serrate-denticulate, raceme condensed, calyx 6-10mm, lobes lanceolate, long-acuminate, . . .ventral ridges sparsely villous, anthers slightly exerted; staminode . . . at the filiform tip, and much more.

It got me thinking about vocabularies, and how horribly limited most of us are when it comes to the English language. I went to my reference library and pulled out at random a dictionary of legal terms, and a pocket music dictionary, and just riffling the pages I realized I recognized very few words I would use in general conversation or correspondence. Almost all of the words were subject specific. I don’t know why I was surprised, or was I?. I took a few years of latin (never even considered Greek) simply to be able to pronounce the words correctly, and get an understanding of the root of so many scientific words and terms. (something I have never regretted) Then I wondered why we seem more likely to accept unfamiliar words into our world, even if we don’t understand them, if they relate to the sciences, but less so than if they are related to, let us say, pedestrian subjects such as masonry. Over the years even the most prosaic of professions have developed vocabularies best, if not only, understood by those who are active in that particular trade or profession. For the masonry worker words such as corbel, pilaster, parging, and wythe are, we hope, easily understood, and likewise for the dozens if not hundreds of other ‘specialists’, but for the rest of us. . . we become stumbling verbal strangers in a strange land.

When is that last time you used amplexicaul or caducous in a sentence? for me it’s been a week or two.

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