Last week we saw how cool the etymology of Chernobyl actually is. But there is wider philological context which is just as ‘spannend’, as the Germans would have it. I noted yesterday that Chernobyl refers to a(n) herb1 or a weed, the Artimisia vulgaris, and it was used in many herbalist traditions around the world. So it was not just merely some kind of harmless black stalk, but it was actually used to heal people.
Of course I cannot delve into every culture in detail, especially since I am hopelessly uneducated to talk about China (there it goes again), but I will try to give a fair overview. So, let’s dive into the different linguistic incarnations of the herb.
In English it’s is more commonly known as mugwort or wormwood, while German and Dutch use the related lemmata Beifuß and bijvoet (Dutch also uses the word alsem). The Romance languages use a form of the inherited Latin loan from Greek, Artemisia or ἀρτεμισία (if you like in Greek script), such as French armoise (commune [= vulgaris]). In Sanskrit it is known as nāgadamanī, in Japanese it is called yomogi, Chinese lóuhāo or àicǎo, and in Korean ssuk.
Important to note is that it is often quite hard to tell to which biological variant of Artemisia a noun refers, as there are dozens of species of artemisia. This may even be the case in just Greek alone: we do not know exactly which Linnean type of Artemisia the Greek ἀρτεμισία referred to. They might have been, for example:
the ἀρτεμισία πλατυτέρα ‘broad(er) Artemisia’ or Artemisia arborescens ‘tree wormwood’ (see YouTube how to grow them)
or the ἀρτεμισία λεπτοτέρα ‘fine Artemisia’, the Artemisia campestris ‘field wormwood’ (Illustration)
or the ἀρτεμισία μονόκλωνος ‘single-stemmed Artemisia’, Artemisia scoparia ‘redstem wormwood’ (Illustration)