Word of the Week (106): FEMETARY (probability 15689), by David Sutton

FEMETARY is an old name for the flower that is now called FUMITORY, a plant of the Fumaria genus, related to poppies. There are a couple of other obsolete variants: FEMITAR and FENITAR: in a famous passage from Shakespeare's 'King Lear' Lear is described as 'as mad as the vex'd sea, singing aloud, Crowned with rank femitar and furrow-weeds'. All these derive from the Old French fume-terre, earth-smoke, from Latin fumus, smoke + terra, earth. Chambers explains the name as 'so called because its rapid growth was thought to resemble the dispersal of smoke'.

The Latin root fumus, smoke, is present in quite a few other words. A FUMAROLE (or FUMEROLE) is a hole emitting gases in a volcano or volcanic region. A FUMADO (plural FUMADOS or FUMADOES) is a smoked pilchard. FUMARIC acid is an acid found in plants of the genus Fumaria. And, less obviously, a FEMERALL is an outlet for smoke in a roof, as used in dwellings that have not yet arrived at the sophistication of chimneys: this comes to us via Old French fumeraille.


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