09 December 2008

Dandelion etymology

The English name dandelion is a corruption of the French dent de lion meaning lion's tooth, referring to the coarsely-toothed leaves. The names of the plant have the same meaning in several other European languages, such as Italian dente di leone, Spanish diente de león, Portuguese dente-de-leão, Norwegian Løvetann, and German Löwenzahn.

In modern French the plant is named pissenlit, which means "urinate in bed", apparently referring to its diuretic properties. Likewise, "pissabeds" is an English folkname for this plant, piscialletto in Italian and in Spanish it is known as the meacamas. Also, in various northeastern Italian dialects, it is known as pisacan, which translates to "dog pisses", referring to how common they are found at the side of pavements, while in many other northern Italian dialects, it is known as soffione, which translates to "blowing", and refers to the habit of blowing the seeds from the stalk. The same is valid for German, where "Pusteblume" (blowing flower) is a popular designation. Likewise, in Polish it is called "dmuchawiec" which comes from "dmuchać", "to blow" when in its seed state. Whilst in flower form the Poles know it as "Mlecz" a word derived from milk due to its milky sap.

In Turkish the dandelion is called karahindiba meaning "black endive."

Hungarian names are kutyatej ("dog milk", referring to the white sap found in the stem) and gyermekláncfű ("child's chain grass", referring to the habit of children to pick dandelions, remove the flowers, and make links out of the stems by "plugging" the narrow top end of the stem into the wider bottom end).

Lithuanian name kiaulpienė can be translated as "sow Sonchus" (because plant Sonchus that has white sap also in Lithuanian is pienė (from pienas "milk)) or "sow milk". In Finnish it is called 'voikukka' ("butter flower") referring to its buttery colour. In Swedish it is called 'maskros' ("worm rose"), likely referring to its low status (being mostly considered a weed) despite a fairly pleasant appearance.

In Dutch it is called paardebloem, meaning "horse-flower".

Text from Wikipedia. Image credit here via Presurfer.


  1. Loved this post!
    Interestingly, in Dutch, the word 'pissebed' refers to the wood slater insect ... (Well, 'slater' is what we call them here in Oz. Not sure what they're called in Minnesota, but there's a nice discussion on slater etymology at
    http://flickr.com/photos/83287853@N00/127241924/ )

  2. In the Midwest, we call them "pillbugs." I hadn't heard the term "slater" before - had to check the dictionary, which suggests it comes from the slate-like armor segments of the insects body.


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