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Anemone: A Difficult Word with Simpler Beginnings

Anemone may not find its way into everyday conversation often, but that hasn't stopped both native and non-native English speakers from reaching a consensus about the wordÔøΩ it's difficult to pronounce. A popular 2015 Reddit thread compiled a lengthy user-generated list of challenging vocabulary words, and anemone ranked among the top 10. The word also serves as a tough test in the latter rounds of elementary and middle school spelling bees. But despite its seemingly complex pronunciation, its definition and origin are a bit easier to understand.

According to Merriam-Webster, anemone is defined as "any of a large genus of perennial herbs of the buttercup family having lobed or divided leaves and showy flowers without petals but with conspicuous sepals." If that doesn't ring a bell, you might be more familiar with the sea anemone, the bright, colorful species that's typically found in the ocean and lends itself to some stunning images.

The word's etymology is quite interesting. Unlike many words, its spelling has barely changed over time. It originated in the 1550s from the Middle French word anemone; the Old French spelling was anemoine. It's also linked to the Latin word anemone, which stems from the Greek word anemone, meaning "wind flower" or "daughter of the wind". The name was associated with the belief that an anemone only opened when the wind blew.

An alternate origin story

Even with such a clear connection to earlier versions of the word, some etymologists suggest anemone has Hebrew roots. Instead of its Greek origins, they link the word to the Hebrew term na'amanim. This word is closely linked to the Arabic spelling shaqa'iq An-Nu'man. In ancient times, Tammuz was the god of food and vegetation; the Phoenician interpretation of his name was Nea'man. Nea'man essentially became the god Adonis, when adopted into Greek culture. He was known for protecting red flowers, the anemones, during his life, and they grew on his grave following his death. They also played a role in his rebirth. Through some loose translation, Nea'man's name in both Arabic and Hebrew morphed into the modern-day spelling of anemone.

But because of the link to Adonis, it's easy to understand why the simpler Greek etymology is often used.

Anemone today

Today, you're likely to hear about anemones in regard to scientific discovery or general enjoyment. In April, five species of blanket-hermit crab were identified; the crab uses the sea anemone as protection in the face of danger. The Poughkeepsie Journal highlighted an Annual Anemone Sale, in which the flowers are sold with the intent of improving the buyer's mental health. And The Columbus Dispatch recently offered tips to properly care for any anemones you bring into your home.

Though anemone is difficult to say, its origin is less confusing and, in land and sea form, it's a view to behold.