Wednesday, August 24, 2016


clem·a·tis pronounced [klem-uh-tis, kli-mat-is]

any of numerous plants or woody vines of the genus Clematis, including many species cultivated for their showy, variously colored flowers.
1551, from L. Clematis, from Gk. klematis, name of some kind of climbing or trailing plant (probably the periwinkle), from klema "vine-branch."

My mother and I loved to watch The Victory Garden on PBS. One Saturday as we were watching, Jim Cockett told about his clematis. He pronounced it : "clem-uh-tus".  Mother looked at me and I looked at her with disbelief as we had pronounced it "cluh-mate-us" all of my life. As I always have my trusty Merriam Webster's Third International Collegiate Dictionary on the basket beside the couch, I casually picked it up thinking that Mr. Crockett had to be in error.

The pronunciations in the dictionary [I can't do the upside down e's here, so bear with me] were: klem-et-es, kli-mat-es, kli-mate-es and kli-mah-tes! AAARRRGHH!! I couldn't believe we were wrong.  I called my sister-in-law Sheila, who was my expert on all things botanical, and she agreed with our pronunciation. I called Sheila's mother Wanda who was an even greater authority, and she agreed with us. 

I ran to our home library and checked my Webster's Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged :  no "cluh-mate-us" there;  I ran upstairs to look at Les' American College Dictionary but no "cluh-mate-us" there.  Finally I grabbed my beloved OED, the ultimate authority, but, alas, no "cluh-mate-us" there either.  In all, I checked all six dictionaries in the house.  [I guess there is such a thing as having too many dictionaries, but I don't think so; after all, one of them saved my brother Norman's reputation in a great "toboggan" debate.]

Do you know how difficult it is to quit pronouncing a word WRONG? I cannot tell you the number of times people have looked at me strangely when I have pronounced clematis CORRECTLY. Several people, including one greenhouse owner, have pronounced it incorrectly after me, to let me know that they thought I was wrong.  That's a fairly amusing tactic people employ to let one know they think one is wrong, but it always results in my relating the Jim Crockett story.

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