Holy Heck! Hollyhocks

I hopped off the bus in front of Ara’s Pastry but for once temptation didn’t strike. My heels were clunking rather than clicking as I trudged back to the Kenmore Arms. But I brightened as I reached my doorstep; in front of it was a ceramic pot bursting with pink hollyhocks. How sweet. It made me think of an old English inn, even though Hollyhock House was only blocks away from me in Hollywood.

Who could have sent them? Was it a trap? I decided to take a chance and hefted the pot up and carried it inside. No explosions. No card either. Maybe I could find a clue in the etymology of hollyhock.

Hmm, “holy adj. + hock n.” Holy heck. What does that mean? Hock is from Old English hoc, of unknown origin. It’s a “general name for various malvaceous plants, esp. the Common and Marsh Mallow and the Hollyhock.” I had to look up malvaceous. No big deal. It’s just the Latin adjective meaning pertaining to malva, the Latin origin of the English word mallow. Mallow grows wild in the hills around here, but what about Marsh Mallow or marshmallow? I always wondered how those spongy little sugar puffs got their name. According to the OED marshmallow (British pronunciation “-mallow,” American “-mellow”) is “A shrubby plant of brackish ditches, Althaea officinalis, of the family Malvaceae, native to Eurasia and North Africa, which has ovate leaves, pale pink flowers, and a mucilaginous root…[or] other plants of the family Malvaceae. The second meaning is “A soft sweet confection made originally from the root of the marshmallow plant and later from albumen, gelatin, sugar, etc.” So that’s the etymological (mucilaginous) root.

Hollyhock photo by J.B. Herman

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Lexie Kahn: Word Snooper is a blog about words and their origins at WordSnooper.com.
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