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Flora and Fauna – Podictionary Word of the Day

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Out there the woods are full flora and fauna.

In fact, the woods are flora since flora are plants and fauna are animals.

Flora take their name from the Roman goddess of flowers. This is why those stores that sell flowers are called florists‘.

In fact it is why flowers are called flowers; they all have the same Latin word root.

Flora is not only a goddess but also a Latin word that means “flower.”  Before she was a Roman goddess, Flora was a Greek goddess by the name of Khloris, and in Greek that doesn’t mean “flower” but it does mean “green,” which is why the green stuff in leaves is called chlorophyll.

panAlthough in many cases Latin words came from Greek words, and in this case flora does sound sort of remotely like khloris, this appears to be somewhat coincidental.  The root of the Latin flora is thought to come from an Indo-European word bhlo that also percolated up through Germanic and Old English to give us bloom.

Turning from the vegetable, fauna as the collective for animals was a relative latecomer, even though the word has similar Greek and Latin roots.  While flora entered English at the beginning of the 1500s, fauna waited close to 300 years to make its showing.

There was an important Swedish guy named Linnaeus who died around then—in the 1770s—who was responsible for drawing up the system of taxonomy by which all those Latin names are assigned to plants and animals.  He used the word fauna in the title of his work on animals and that’s why English speakers began using it.

Fauna was a minor Roman goddess but her brother was more famous, his Roman god name was Faunus but in Greek he was known as Pan.


Five days a week Charles Hodgson produces Podictionary – the podcast for word lovers, Thursday episodes here at OUPblog. He’s also the author of Carnal Knowledge – A Navel Gazer’s Dictionary of Anatomy, Etymology, and Trivia as well as the audio book Global Wording – The Fascinating Story of the Evolution of English.

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