I'm not sure when or why the word pansy became an epithet, a scornful term for a man who didn't seem "manly" enough. Besides, as a feminist and a parent of both daughters and sons, I could—and do—certainly take issue with why being considered effeminate is an insult in the first place.
But that's a rant for a different day. For now let's talk about pansies.
I bought a bunch of them this week, which I plan to put outside if it ever warms up enough to actually plant something. I've liked them ever since I was little and first noticed, in my grandmother's bed of pansies beside the back step, how much their blossoms resembled vivid little faces.
In the hierarchy of the garden, pansies are members of the chorus rather than stars. They don't have the fragrance of roses. They aren't dramatic and showy like peonies or gladioli. They aren’t temperamental or difficult to grow.
What pansies do have is character. The heat doesn't appear to wilt them. The ever-encroaching creeping jenny doesn't defeat them. Even the ineptitude of my gardening doesn't seem to faze them. They just keep blooming, through spring hailstorms, summer heat, and even the first early frost.
According to Merriam Webster, the word pansy comes from the Latin “pensare.” It means to ponder, and it’s also the root of “pensive.”
The name suits these bright yellow and purple flowers. Blooming is their business, and they do it conscientiously. Pansy faces aren't smiling and carefree. They wear the focused, serious expressions of those with important jobs to do.
Actually, they remind me of another group that does important work. A group that certainly would be described as effeminate and could easily be called pansies if the word meant what it ought to mean. They're tough, they have character, and they hang in there even when conditions are less than ideal.
Surely, by now, you know who I'm talking about. Mothers.