Spring has sprung and the flowers have awoken from a three month slumber. We all know what that means: carnage. Soon they will meet their demise, have their carcasses distributed among the living, and someone will probably rave about last year’s “The Language of Flowers” by Vanessa Diffenbaugh. Whether you enjoyed her book or not is irrelevant because she has rekindled our interest in the forgotten words that each flower and plant conveyed in the Victorian era (but France and Turkey did it first). A red rose for true love and a viscaria to ask for someone to dance with you… Everything seems so romantic, but what about that Victorian bitchiness? After all the era was as ripe with romantic imagery as it was with witticisms.
Say for example that you have gone to a good old “tea bitch” (an ironically and uncharacteristically blunt Victorian term for gossiping while enjoying a cup of tea with friends). During this tea bitch one of your acquaintances made a snide remark about you and left you with a rather bitter taste in your mouth. To call her out on this would be most uncivilised; to let it slide would simply be no fun at all. Flowers to the rescue! At the next party you attend you simply hand her bunch of yellow carnations in plain sight. Suddenly the room is set aflutter as you have publicly said something along the lines of, “You’re a huge disappointment.” Furthermore, it was the Victorian equivalent of defriending somebody on Facebook. In her well equipped household your friend presently presents you with a sprig of basil (the antiquated equivalent of doing that thing where you pretend to scratch your eyebrow with your middle finger, but you’re actually flipping the person off). Disgusted, you go home, but the war isn’t over yet.
The following day you send her St. John’s Wort: “Go f#`$ yourself!”
Promptly after that her messengers shower you with rue: “You’ll you regret that.” (Note: this is where we get the term “You’ll rue this day!” from.)
At the next garden party of a mutual friend’s you slip her a wild tansy:
“Come at me, ho.”
She demurely passes you a meadowsweet at the banquet table:
“You couldn’t slap me if you tried.”
As she turns to talk to some friends you give her a musk plant:
“Bitch please you’re so weak you make OJ Simpson’s alibi look strong.”
And the argument continues on like this for quite some time, but eventually you realise you were both wrong, heave a sigh and give each other some fly orchis (It was my fault). Then because any form of skin-ship would be most queer you exchange arbor vitae leaves while cocking your eye brow (Still friends?).
Everything was thought of from aconites to misanthropically mean “I hate everyone and nobody understands me” to red poppies meaning “pleasure” (I couldn’t imagine why…), from the green carnation meaning “I absolutely adore Oscar Wilde’s works” (I’m not embellishing, that’s literally what it means) to the rather perplexing persimmon “bury me amid nature’s beauties”.
With your newly acquired cherry tree (education) I have one word of rosebay (caution). When you order your first spring salad at a restaurant and it arrives garnished with disgust (mushrooms), cold heartedness (lettuce), or pity nuts (pine nuts) be sure not to punch the waiter in the face; he or she is probably daisy (innocent). Just smile and give them a sweat pea (thank you).