In a word: Saxifrage

January 03, 2012

Each week The Sun's John McIntyre presents a moderately obscure but evocative word with which you may not be familiar — another brick to add to the wall of your working vocabulary. This week's word:

SAXIFRAGE

In the grip of winter, the trees bare against the sky and the dark coming on so early in the afternoon, it is some consolation to reflect on the stubborn persistence of life.

There is a little plant, the saxifrage (pronounced SAK-suh-frij), a low-lying thing that grows in poor soils and puts out small white, yellow, or red flowers. It can be found in alpine areas and is sometimes grown in rock gardens.

But its name is mighty. The late Latin saxifraga, comes from the roots saxum, "rock," and frangere, "to break." This little thing is a rock-breaker.

Example: In "A sort of Song," William Carlos Williams takes this plant as an emblem and example for the writer: "Compose. (No ideas / but in things) Invent! / Saxifrage is my flower that splits / the rocks."

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