The flower of...

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The flower of...

Post by PhilHunt » Wed Jan 30, 2008 8:17 pm

Whilst researching the expression "The flower of kindness" I discovered that in Middle and Early Modern English flower and flour were not spelt differently. In fact the expression "The flower of..." alluded to flour being the finest part of the wheat and thus a person being the finest out of a number.

Does anyone else have a take on this?
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The flower of...

Post by dalehileman » Thu Jan 31, 2008 5:37 pm

As it seemed you were being overlooked I felt obliged to thank you for that although I'm sure now you will receive a few more scholarly and academic replies
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The flower of...

Post by PhilHunt » Thu Jan 31, 2008 5:57 pm

dalehileman wrote: As it seemed you were being overlooked I felt obliged to thank you for that although I'm sure now you will receive a few more scholarly and academic replies
Thank-you Dalehilman.

I forgot to mention that in the information I have (the Oxford book of idioms) it says that Flour was the original spelling for both flower and flour, but, on the Etymology website it says this:

flour
c.1225, flur "flower," in the sense of flour being the "finest part" of meal (cf. Fr. fleur de farine). Spelled flower until flour became the accepted form c.1830 to end confusion. See flower.

flower (n.)
c.1200, from O.Fr. flor, from L. florem (nom. flos) "flower" (see flora), from PIE base *bhlo- "to blossom, flourish" (cf. M.Ir. blath, Welsh blawd "blossom, flower," O.E. blowan "to flower, bloom"). Modern spelling is 14c. Ousted O.E. cognate blostm (see blossom). Also used from 13c. in sense of "finest part or product of anything." The verb is first recorded c.1225.

If I'm not wrong, they seem to contradict my source.
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The flower of...

Post by trolley » Thu Jan 31, 2008 6:41 pm

Webster's Revised Unabridged, 1913 Edition give this as one definition of “flower”

Flow"er (?), n. [OE. flour, OF. flour, flur, flor, F. fleur, fr. L. flos, floris.}
4. Grain pulverized; meal; flour. [Obs.]
The flowers of grains, mixed with water, will make a sort of glue. Arbuthnot.

…..so the ground meal is first known as “flour”, switches to “flower” and then changes back to “flour” (to end the confusion)?
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The flower of...

Post by Phil White » Thu Jan 31, 2008 7:30 pm

Chaucer spells both meanings "flour", although most modernized transcriptions use the modern spelling for "flower". The meanings are clearly divergent at that early stage, but it appears that the root meaning for both was "the best part of" and that this meaning traces back to PIE *bhel- meaning to bloom or to thrive. Words which have come through the Germanic languages into English from that root probably include "blossom", "bloom" and "blood". Through OF with the sound shift "b" to "f" we have "flower/flour", "flourish" and "foliage".

There's a page here that looks pretty thoroughly at the PIE root, and what is said there is backed up by the couple of resources I looked at, including Pokorny.

It does not surprise me that the spelling was unstable for a long time, as it appears that is still the case. Try this Google search verbatim:

"flower mill" -florist flour grain

(the -florist is there to get rid of the cutesy flower shop names.)
It seems that there are plenty of people out there who still prefer to spell "flour" as "flower". The implication of the etymonline statement "...until flour became the accepted form c.1830 to end confusion," suggests a conscious spelling reform that was undoubtedly not the case.

As far as your original point is concerned, I am unfamiliar with the phrase "flower of kindness". A brief search on Google revealed that the hits were almost exclusively on a single quotation from a "Robert Alan", who is also unknown to me and about whom I could find nothing.

My guess is that the etymology of "flower" was not in the mind of the writer, but I may be doing him an injustice.
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