Facing Up to the Pansy

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.

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Categories: Wild Things, Words for Nerds | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

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2 thoughts on “Facing Up to the Pansy

  1. Frank

    For some reason, Ginny didn’t have much luck with pansies. Some people that lived in the mobile home park that we lived in in Mesa planted them and they thrived so I figure they must be tough to do well in that invironment. I like them as I do most flowers, especially impatients, which Ginny plants. The only flower don’t like is the geranium. They stink, attract snails, and you can’t kill them, even if you toss them into a compost heap or a vacant lot.

  2. Kathleen

    A flowering plant you can’t kill (besides dandelions and creeping jenny!)–now, that is my kind of plant.

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