Word of the Week (242): POPINAC (*new CSW15*) (probability 25565), by David Sutton

The POPINAC (or POPINACK) is a thorny shrub or small tree of tropical or subtropical America, with clusters of fragrant yellow flowers; it is also known as sweet acacia. The word comes to us from Collins, though rather unhelpfully it is to be found only under H, as a synonym for the existing CSW12 word HUISACHE. However, it takes more than a little thing like that to throw your Dictionary Committee bloodhounds off the scent of a new word.

The word is a folk corruption of OPOPANAX, another name for the tree, which itself derives from the Greek opos, gum plus panax, panacea, referring to the tree's medicinal properties. And yet another name given by Collins under HUISACHE, but not in its rightful place under C, is the new CASSIE. I wondered at first if that might be a shortening of another new plant name, CASSIOPE, which comes from the American sources, but no, CASSIOPE appears to be an unrelated plant of the heather family. Then I thought CASSIE might be a variant of the existing CASSIA, but again that appears to be a name used for two other trees. Finally I thought that CASSIE might be a familiar shortening of CASSINA (or CASSENA or CASSENE or CASSINE), another tree of the southern US, but no, that is an evergreen tree with red flowers, also known as the YAUPON, YOUPON, YAPON or YUPON.

At this point I decided to stop chasing botanical relationships, just learn the word and move on. For all I know, CASSIE might be someone's attempt to negotiate the tricky-looking HUISACHE (which actually seems to be pronounced something like wee-sat-ji).


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