The Glossary Project and “Word of the Week”

By Mary Free and Christa Watters, Extension Master Gardeners

NEW in 2021!

To back up and bolster the wealth of original content provided on our Web site, Master Gardeners of Northern Virginia (MGNV) has begun building a glossary of horticultural and botanical terms. Those of us who research and write about plants and gardening and the environment notice that we regularly encounter terms whose specialized meaning we are unsure of, or that are, in some cases, totally new to those of us not formally trained in the biological sciences. The goal is to enrich our collective comprehension of the various resources on our site, as well as our wider readings of horticulture and gardening. Many of the words we are researching appear in our Web site resources, such as the Tried and True Native Plant Selections for the Mid-Atlantic and information about horticulture in general, native plants, invasive species, and weeds.

As we undertake this effort, we plan to share our work in progress through a new feature on our site, a weekly posting to be called “Word of the Week” (WoW) that offers new word explorations in manageable, and, we hope, at least sometimes entertaining bites – with photographs to illustrate the terms and concepts. (All images are captioned. If a caption does not appear below the image, then it will appear when you place the cursor over the image or click on the image.)

Photos © Mary Free

WoW will be posted every Monday morning with an occasional additional posting to supplement a feature article or mark some occasion. Once we have completed enough words, these postings will be converted to pages in an indexed format and the glossary will appear as a line item in our Web site’s drop-down menu. In the meantime, you will be able to conduct a search on “Word of the Week” or “WoW” to find a list of past postings. Since we used some of the same Sources and References as we did for the Tried and True native plant fact sheets, WoW footnotes only include references specific to a particular posting.

So to start off, let us offer a definition of glossary that models how we propose to structure the Word of the Week.

glossary [ glosuh-ree] noun: an alphabetical collection of specialist terms and their meanings, usually in the form of an appendix to a book; a collection of textual glosses or of specialized terms with their meanings.

Sample introduction to flute.

Encarta World English Dictionary provides the first definition, which emphasizes that these terms are for a particular subject. Often, in technical or academic writing, such specialist terms have a very particular meaning that may be somewhat different from their more general usage in ordinary conversation or writing. (Upcoming WoW examples include alternate, berry, flute, and sucker.)

In some circles these usages are described as terms of art. A less kind word, particularly when a lot of acronyms crop up, is jargon. In any case, the terms often need a gloss, which is referred to in the second definition offered by Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. Glosses, or explanations of words unfamiliar or with obscure meanings, originally were annotations of varying length and complexity in the margins of classical texts. They were sometimes compiled into a glossary; this word was first used in the 14th Century, with the same meaning it has today.

We have taken clues from these glosses, so that some WoW posts may be succinct while others may introduce additional botanical terms, explain not only what but how or why, or provide some gardening tips or anecdotes. Unlike in the 14th Century, though, our glosses hyperlink to additional information (and will hyperlink to other glosses as we compile more words) with just a click of the mouse. In any case, we hope you enjoy joining us as we set out to enrich our knowledge and our specialized gardening vocabularies.

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