Field of Science

What a pansy!

While observing our pansy plants endure nights in the low 20s and then perk up each day, it confirms what many gardeners know, a pansy is a tough little plant. So how did the term pansy come to mean a wimpy or meek sort of person? Pansy is an old common name for some violas, which have many other common names, and the modern pansy (Viola x wittrockiana) is of hybrid origin with some Viola tricolor parentage, but where did the other word derive from? Anyone ever find an explanation?


mr_subjunctive said...

My understanding was that it's corrupted French. Something like, the downward-facing "faces" looked contemplative, therefore penseés, which turned into "pansy." I could be wrong, but that's what I remember reading somewhere.

The Phytophactor said...

Hmm. Have to think about that one for awhile. Certainly plausible.

mr_subjunctive said...

According to Wikipedia, I got it, more or less:

"The name 'pansy' is derived from the French word pensée meaning "thought", and was so named because the flower resembles a human face; in August it nods forward as if deep in thought. Because of this the pansy has long been a symbol of Freethought[13] and has been used in the literature of the American Secular Union."

Don't know what August had to do with anything (if they hold their flowers at a different angle at different times of the year, I've never noticed), but there you go.