Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

Lotus – Podictionary Word of the Day

Welcome to podictionary. My name is Charles Hodgson

For almost three years now I’ve been producing podictionary – the podcast for word lovers and I’m very pleased to now be able to bring a weekly episode to the OUPblog. Every Thursday I’ll be posting a word-of-the-day podcast here.

There are two main differences between podictionary and most other word-of-the-day series.

One is that at podictionary instead of trying to expand your vocabulary I try to pick a word that you already know and then tell you something you didn’t know about the word.

Another difference is that podictionary is a podcast. Although OUPblog will be carrying the podcast transcript so that blog readers can subscribe too, podictionary is primarily for listening to. Roughly 80% of the thousands of podictionary subscribers who’ve been following the daily episodes hear the episodes rather than read them.

You don’t have to own an iPod to listen either.

Although the majority of listeners subscribe using Apple iTunes or Microsoft Zune, hundreds of other people listen at their computer or via the website player (that little speaker/triangle thing below this text).

Whatever your preference I hope you enjoy podictionary.

You can subscribe to this OUPblog feed with any feed-reader, blog or podcast client software, but the podictionary OUPblog feed is not yet in the iTunes directory (we’re working on that). The podictionary OUPblog feed address is https://blog.oup.com/category/reference/podictionary/feed/

[display_podcast] Podcast Transcript:

A lotus is a flower but it seems to be some kind of idealized flower and to have held some special meaning in a number of cultures.

People who practice yoga often use the lotus position and the lotus flower held a kind of sacred place in Hindu tradition. But for our western culture that came later with a first citation only 150 years ago.

Around the Mediterranean there seem to have been a variety of plants called lotus that were held in sacred regard by the early Egyptians and others.

The standout however is the Greek lotus described in Homer’s Odyssey.

These flowers were found on an island occupied by a peaceful happy people where Odysseus and his crew were driven by a storm. The reason the islanders were happy and peaceful was that they ate these lotus flowers or perhaps their fruit which appeared to have narcotic properties.

Three of Odysseus’ crewmembers were dispatched to check out the island culture and never came back. Odysseus had to go grab them by the scruff of the neck and bodily haul them back to the ship. They had forgotten their assignment and only wanted to hang out with the islanders and keep eating lotus. Odysseus skedaddled out of there as quickly as his little oars could row him.

There seems to be a lesson here, some kind of cautionary tale about drugs. But perhaps the lesson has been lost on us.

I say this for two reasons.

First of all I see that plenty of people have invested piles of time in trying to figure out what plant it was exactly that Odysseus was reporting on. You don’t suppose those researchers were interested in having a little taste do you? I suppose it’s natural that we don’t know if any of this research has ever been successful since if the correct lotus was discovered the discoverer wouldn’t be bothered to write his report after eating the stuff.

The phrase lotus-eater mimics the Greek Lotophagi and refers to people who are in an unmotivated dreamlike happy state. Similarly lotus land is that place you go when you’re feeling deliciously irresponsible and happy. This could be just your internal “happy place” or an actual geographical location; California and British Columbia have been mentioned.

I said there were two pieces of evidence pointing to our missing the moral lesson in lotus. The second is that despite the lazy and irresponsible tone that the etymology of lotus carries, people still have a warm fuzzy feeling about the word. Why else would so many artists name their work lotus or corporations adopt the name. There is software called Lotus, a supermarket chain and a car company.

They all want you to feel warm and happy with their name.

I have a story about a Lotus car.

A friend bought a used Lotus and spent years tinkering with it in his garage. The last time I saw it it was in pieces. I don’t think he ever actually drove it much. Anyway, one day he was tinkering away in his driveway in the sunshine when a stranger strolls by and starts to chat. “A Lotus, I once had a Lotus years ago…” and they reminisce for quite some time about this and that car trivia. Eventually the guy picks up some tools and starts pitching in to help with the tinkering. After another while doing this he straightens up and says

“You know what, this used to be my car!”

It was one of those hobby projects that had changed hands several times always spending more time in parts than on the road.

I guess it was just happiest in the garage.

Recent Comments

  1. FezNJ

    This was great good fun and a nice complement to the OUP blog. More!

  2. […] was for loyal Wednesday’s word origin was for jiggery-pokery Thursday’s etymology was for lotus and Friday’s word root was for the word […]

  3. Ivan

    Congratulations Charles! I didn’t have to think twice about following your thursday’s podcast here @ OUP.

    Keep up the great work!

    My best wishes from Puerto Rico,
    Ivan Ramírez

Comments are closed.