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A Grammatical Dictionary of Botanical Latin

The letter 'y' is used in Botanical Latin to transliterate the Greek upsilon and was not originally part of the Roman alphabet. For this reason, most classical Latin dictionaries have no entry for Latin words beginning in 'y'. Both the letters z and y were introduced in Rome for the spelling of words of Greek origin during the time when the Roman Republic was coming to its end.

Note: the short (Roman) 'u' sometimes represented the Greek upsilon, 'fuga' deriving from (Greek script) phuge, cuminum from (Greek script) kuminon (Lewis & Short).

All Greek words beginning with 'u' (upsilon) are transcribed as 'y.'

The Latin 'u' is not the same as the Greek 'u' (upsilon). At various periods the Romans used the symbol 'v' for both the Latin 'u' vowel and the 'v' consonant, as can be seen on Roman inscriptions. In most classical dictionaries the vowel and the consonant have their own respective symbols, the 'u' and the 'v.' For either of these letters see the introductions to the 'u' and 'v' sections.

The shape of the capital letter 'Y' in English script is also the shape of the capital letter for 'upsilon' in Greek script: 'Y.'

The letter 'y' of the English alphabet represents a consonant at the beginning of a word ('yes'), but when ‘y’ is a prefix or occurring medially or terminally in an English word, it is a vowel. The letter comes to English through the Latin, but it represents a mix of sounds, a conflation of Anglo-Saxonisms and Latin, and the influence of orthographic patterns throughout the history of the English language are too complex to present here.

In the ICBN (2006), 60.4, the letters w and y are stated to be permissible in Latin plant names, but letters in ligatures otherwise foreign to those of Latin or Greek 'are to be transcribed.'

The upsilon appears to be the only Greek vowel that always has the spiritus asper at the beginning of a word. It is always aspirated, so one may say that the upsilon as the first letter of a word is always transliterated as 'hy-.'

NOTE: in section 60A.2 of the Vienna (2006) Code p. 110, the spiritus asper associated with initial vowels and the letter 'r' in Greek is to be transliterated into Botanical Latin as the letter 'h'

NOTE should be taken that the spiritus asper, or 'h' only occurs when the upsilon is at the beginning of a word (which may account for why initial 'y', in English, is considered a consonant). When the upsilon occurs medially or terminally, the 'h' is not written, that is, the upsilon is not aspirated. Thus it may appear startling that the 'h' in 'hydrous' is not written in Latin in a compound where 'hydrous' is the terminal word element.

Latin transcription of Gk. hydrus,-a,-um (adj.A), hydrous:

- compound anydrus ,-a,-um (adj.A) (an + hydros) [lacking water] Engl. hydrous, anhydrous

- parydrus,-a,-um (adj.A) (para + -ydros), the final -a- of para is elided, and there is no 'h' before the u of -hydros: Engl. parhydrous 'living near the water.'

- philydrus,-a,-um (adj.A) (philos + -ydros), Eng. philhydrous, 'water-loving.'

- philydrelos, 'abounding in moisture' (philos + hydrelos)

- philymnos (philos + hymnos) 'loving song'

- philypnos (philos + hypnos) 'loving sleep.'

- however, with epi the final -i- is elided, but the 'p' becomes 'ph'

before the 'y': ephydrous (epi + hydros), 'growing on the water,' the 'ph' is rendered in Greek with the Greek letter 'phi'

NOTE that in English, the 'h' is readily inserted: anhydrous, parhydrous, philhydrous.

NOTE: compounds of 'hypnum,' a Greek word for some Cryptogamic plant, such as a moss, would follow this rule, where the 'h' is not transcribed when the word 'hypnum' is not initial (but medial or terminal). Generic names of mosses where 'hypnum' is terminal would then be compounds of a prefix + ypnum,-i (s.n.II):

Tomentypnum - however, Crum and Anderson (1981) indicated the spelling was 'Tomenthypnum' Loeske., 'tomentum' + '(h)ypnum'

The genus Pseudohygrohypnum is interesting as the aspiration occurs in two non initial elements beginning with upsilon (hygro and hypnum).

Perhaps the correct transcripted word would be Pseudoygroypnum!

Hygrohypnum Lindberg is probably correct as the 'h' here is inserted between two vowels (rather than Hygroypnum); Pseudohygrohypnum.

Haplohymenium Dozy & Molk. (nom.cons.) might bear some scrutiny in this respect, as would Platyhypnidium or any genus compounded from a genus made from a Greek word beginning with Hy- (initial upsilon).

The rho or 'r' of the Greek alphabet at the beginning of a word also almost universally is written in Greek with the spiritus asper, and is transliterated 'rh-.' See introduction to the 'r' section.

Note that the 'u', or upsilon in the Greek diphthongs au, eu, ou and ui is not transliterated into Latin with a 'y':
Greek       Transliteration            Latin
au                au		          au		
eu (also eta u)   eu		          eu		
ou                u			 [ou only in Early Latin, also ai and oi]
ui                ui  			  ui

See below 'ypsil-, ypsili-, ypsilo-: in Gk. comp. Y-shaped;' for discussion of the spiritus asper and lenis, see 'spirit;' [see 'R'].

Note: if all Greek words beginning with upsilon have the spiritus asper then the word 'upsilon' should itself be pronounced hypsilon [(h)u psilon], I have never seen a recommendation for this pronunciation or a transliteration with the 'h'; it is always spoken as if it had a spiritus lenis mark.

When seeking the derivation of a Greek word beginning with 'hy-,' one should go straight to 'u' in a Greek dictionary, toward the end, as upsilon is the 20th letter of the Greek alphabet, every entry of which has the spiritus asper (see spirit).

NOTE: Hypoxis L. from an old name hypoxys, 'somewhat acid,' the 'y' (in Gk. upsilon) in -ys is transliterated as ‘i’, thus -is, so that it conforms to similar ending Latin nouns of the Third Declension, perhaps with genitive "Hypoxidis."

NOTE: the Greek diphthong 'ou' is transliterated 'u' in the Roman script.


Hyptis Jacq. from Greek (h)yptios, resupinate 'in reference to the deflexed lower lip of the corolla" (Fernald 1950; Labiatae).

Hyssopus L. ancient Greek name [(h)yssopos, (first 'o'= omega)].

Hystrix Moench: from Greek hysterix, gen.sg. hysterichos (sg. m. & f. III) a hedgehog, porcupine.

Hybanthus Jacq. Greek hybos, hump-backed, and anthos, flower.

Lathyrus L. cf. Greek lathyris, a kind of plant (wolf's-milk) and Greek Lathyros, a plant, also called by the Romans leontopodion (Lewis & Short), also a plant of Theophrastus "the name often said to be composed of the prefix, la, very, and thyros, passionate, the original plant reputed to be an aphrodisiac' Fernald 1950.

Lychnis L. "ancient greek name for a scarlet or flame-colored species, from lychnos, a flame' (Fernald 1950)

Lycopodium L. Greek lykos, wolf + pous, foot.

Lygodesmia D. Don Greek lygos, a pliant twig + desme, a bundle, 'from the fascicled twiggy or rush-like stems' (Fernald 1950).

Lygodium Sw. from Greek lygodes, flexible.

Myosurus, L. 'Mousetail' Greek myos, of a mouse (gen.sg.) and oura, a tail.

Myosoton Moench, from Greek mys, mouse, and ous, ear 'from the soft leaves' Fernald 1950.

Myagrum L. Greek mys, mouse and agra trap.

Oxydendrum DC. Greek oxys, sour, and dendron, tree.

Thymus L. Greek thymos.

EPITHETS: -y,-ey: -yae (f.gen.sg.); -yi (m.gen.sg.); -yanus,-a,-um (adj.A);

- Carex hystricina forma Dudleyi (William R. Dudley); Crataegus Laneyi (C. C. Laney); Cyperus Torreyi (John Torrey); Dasystephana Grayi (Asa Gray); Doliocarpus pipolyi; Solidago Buckleyi (S. B. Buckley); Microsphaeria Dubyi; Arthrostylidium berryi (Paul E. Berry);

- Agaricus Grayanus (Asa Gray); Carex Deweyana (Chester Dewey); Vitis Baileyana (L.H.Bailey); Pediastrum Boryanum; Sabatia Kennedyana Fern. (G. G. Kennedy).

BUT: see Gentiana catesbaei Walt. (Mark Catesby)

- Darbya Gray

NOTE: connecting -i- is elided

NOTE: ending in -ye: Pseudolepicolea fryei (T. C. Frye)

NOTE: the masculine genitive plural: Baileyorum, of the Baileys (Liberty Hyde and Ethel Zoe Bailey.)

Y (chem.) = the element Yttrium,-ii (s.n.II), abl. sg. Yttrio.

-y (English noun suffix): in L. & Gk. comp. -ia,-ae (s.f.I): indicating state, condition, such as -carpy, -phagy, -tomy; as in -ology indicating a branch of knowledge or specialty, a science: -ologia,-ae (s.f.I);

- anatomia,-ae (s.f.I), anatomy.

- see compounds in -geny, generation, production, science of origin [> Gk. geneia, the act of being born, > -genes; genos: lineage]:

-genia,-ae (s.f.I): ontogenia,-ae (s.f.I), phylogenia,-ae (s.f.I).

-carpy > -carpia,-ae (s.f.I): xenocarpia,-ae (s.f.I), xenocarpy.

-chory > (cf. -chore}, zoochoria,-ae (s.f.I), distribution or dissemination by animals.

-logy > -logia,-ae (s.f.I): agrostologia,-ae (s.f.I),- bryologia,-ae (s.f.I), morphologia,-ae (s.f.I), mycologia,-ae (s.f.I), oecologia,-ae (s.f.I), ecology; phenologia,-ae (s.f.I) = > phenomenologia,-ae (s.f.I), phycologia,-ae (s.f.I) [> Gk. logos, a discourse]

-gamy > -gamia,-ae (s.f.I): autogamia,-ae (s.f
-y (English adjective suffix): see -ary.

Y-shaped: see ypsil-, ypsili-, ypsilo-: in Gk. comp.;

- sinus in forma litterae "Y", the sinus in the form of the letter "Y"; in figura litterae "Y"; in aspectu litterae "Y" (litterae is genitive singular).

- aspectu similis litterae "Y", with an appearance similar to the letter "Y" (litterae is dative singular).

- glandula alba, in forma litterae Y inversae, glandule white, in the shape of the inverse letter Y.


A work in progress, presently with preliminary A through R, and S, and with S (in part) through Z essentially completed.
Copyright © P. M. Eckel 2010-2017

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