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BECCABUNGA J. C .

N . W I L L I S and

M.

M.

WHITING

PERHAPS some botanists have wondered how or why one of our commonest and most abounding Veronicas should have such a foreign-looking epithet instead of a Latin adjective. Miss Whiting and I set ourselves to find out. T h e dictionaries say " ef Italian " . Comparing it with Italian only leads one to say " not Italian ". Was there once a great botanist of that name or a locality in the Indian jungle perhaps ? Linnaeus quotes for it his great fore-runner T o u r n e f o r t (Institutiones, published 1700) some sixty years before Linnaeus and he quotes Tournefort's references to earlier famous botanists— Bocconi's Museo di'Planti (note the Italian name) and the brothers Bauhin (Pinax, published c. 1620). I asked Miss Whiting to look into these much quoted works at the Kew Herbarium Library and see which was responsible for coining this obviously latinised form of a common name, but Mr. N. Y. Sandwith directed her to a much earlier botanist who used the name and might have been its originator—one Brunfelsius (c.1534) whom I had not thought of as important seeing what Tournefort said about him. " Poor dear man " is T ' s attitude, " a good botanist who did valuable work in reintroducing in Germany the art and skill of illustrating plants, imitated by many who followed him " . But why, oh why did he dö all his own printing on his ramshackle press, working far into the night to hasten on the publication and making such blunders and messes, not even making the verbal description correspond with the picture ? I have translated Tournefort a bit freely—his language is strong, but he ends with sympathy and even tenderness for a good botanist| who unfortunately limited himself to a few rather common plants! This Otho was born at Kastel across the Rhine from M o g u n tum, now Mainz. In those days not many people had family surnames as we know them but were known by the name of the place where they lived—so this botanist was Otho Brown Cliffs (I suppose these over-hung the Rhine at Kastel). Tabernae Montanus was another German (no, not an Italian), who lived a httle before Brunfels, not far away at what is now Berg Zabern. Perhaps Roman soldiers of the occupation had a favourite inn in the valley below those mountains. It would seen that Brunfels latinised the G e r m a n equivalent of Brooklime.


100 Transactions

of the Suffolk

Naturalists',

Vol. 13, Part

2

Everyone agrees that Becca is latinization of G e r m a n " bach ", brook, Old English " b e c k " , Icelandic " b e k k o " and other Teutonic forms. But there is variance in explaining—bunga. YVebster's great International Dictionary pronounces firmly " from Old High German bungo, a bulb " but where is the bulb of Brooklime ? It could mean a swelling and refer to the fat stems, hardly likely ? Looking up Anne Pratt (1855 edition) I found her derivation f r o m Old Flemish " p u n g e n " (mouth-smart) more likely, but did not know how much authority to give her until I saw that the Oxford New English Dictionary quoted her. Did the Old Flemings eat it to know that it was pungent ? I have not heard of people eating it nowadays, we a softer generation prefer t h e milder water-cresses. But the French botanist Bonnier suggests that it is edible, for the French call it " la Salade de Chouette " (Owl's Salad). T h e n I turned to the English word Brooklime and found it in the Anglo-Saxon Leechdoms of A.D.1000—a medical man's handbook of simples and other remedies—as valued for the same curative and health giving properties for which we now eat watercresses. T h e word " lime " has puzzled me, for obviously it cannot be the same as Lime T r e e (Linden), Lime (Lemon) or lime from Latin linum, mud or slime used in the making of cement, nor Lyme Grass, that is a corruption of Elymus, its Greek name. T h e Anglo-Saxon name of our plant was Hleomoc. " Hleomoc hatte wyrt seo weaxeth on broke " (Hlemock is named an herb which grows in brooks). In course of time this was corrupted into lemeke, lempe, lern, lim, lyme. T h e Anglo-Saxon Leech Book, the doctors' manual, says " Both sorts of Lemmike Dansk were the great one and the lite " (add a diminutive particle and " lite " becomes " little "). I take the greater to be Veronica Beccabunga and the less Veronica anagallis-aquatica (Water Speedwell). All this has been good f u n for us and we hope it throws a little light on mediaeval ways of latinising the mother-tongue of any nation. We are indebted to Dr. T . R. Stearn, Editor of the Ray Society's reprint of Linnaeus's Species Plantarum who so kindly replied to my letter giving me a copy of his " Background of Linnaeus's contribution to Nomenclature " and referring me to other sources of information, German and French as well as English, and in particular for saying that in writing about Beccabunga and its English name I should not be competing with any other who had written on this. I was amused at the idea of my competing with more learned botanists. I was merely afraid I might be accused of plagiarising, though unknowingly, from a previous writer.

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