You may, on Mother’s Day, be indulging in a bouquet of flowers – perhaps the traditional choice of carnations. A herbaceous perennial flowering plant native to southern Europe, the carnation’s cultivated forms have since ancient times been appreciated for their variously coloured, often fringe-petalled, clove-scented flowers. Its genus name Dianthus is composed of the Greek Dios , meaning “of Zeus”, the supreme god of the ancient Greeks, and anthos “flower” – thus “flower of the gods”. (The name references the macabre Graeco-Roman legend, involving the goddess Artemis/Diana gouging out a shepherd’s eyes, which transformed into carnations.) The name “carnation” has a less obvious origin. Some have postulated that this derives from the Latin carnem , “flesh”, referring to the hue of one’s flesh – but this comprises another meaning of the word “carnation”. Say these words wrong and you probably would have been killed Another postulation is that it is perhaps based on a misreading of the Arabic qaranful “clove or clove pink”, from the Greek karyophyllon , from karyon “nut” and phyllon “leaf”, referring to clove. The flower used to bear the name “coronation”, apparently from its 16th century specific name Betonica coronaria , the second part meaning “of or fit for a crown, chaplet or wreath”, with 16th century English botanist and antiquary Henry Lyte describing “the floures […] dented or toothed aboue […] like to a littell crownet”. In Lyte’s A Niewe Herball or Historie of Plantes three names are used: coronations, cornations and carnations. Most authors agree that “coronation” was the most likely original form, the other names used probably due to popular mistake. After 1600, though, only “carnation” persisted. This consequently modified the later definition as a colour-name, more akin to rose-pink or deeper crimson. White carnations – representing the purity of mothers’ love – were linked to Mother’s Day when the event was founded in 20th century America by Anna Jarvis, it being her late mother’s favourite flower. Global commercialisation of the day has seen pink, red and other colours taking on hues of meaning of admiration, love and gratitude. Red carnations speak a strong language in politics. Wielded in International Workers’ Day (May 1) demonstrations, the 1917 Russian revolution and Portugal’s 1974 Carnation revolution, they are a symbol of socialism and the labour movement, red signifying the blood of martyrs and the fiery passion of future struggle.