Dandelions and ideographs

Image from yoyowall.com

Image from yoyowall.com

My town is exercising a little horticultural shabby chic.

Ordinarily it is packed with showy beds which adorn every railing and traffic roundabout. The Victorian park-fodder of geraniums, pansies, busy lizzies and similar blousy blooms are usually a common sight and the whole place became reminiscent of some lovely brash cockney barmaid who has put on just a bit too much scent.

This year, though, all that has changed.

Where once there were flowers, now there is meadow with long stemmed wild grasses swaying in the backdrafts of the passing traffic. Each meadow has a large sign stuck into it, reading “Blooming Biodiversity”.

It has a certain grace, and I have no doubt our local wildlife will benefit immeasurably. It is tasteless and eco-unfriendly of me to want the bright red geraniums back. But I do miss the slightly overpowering barmaid just a little.

Wild flowers are extremely de rigeur right now: and not just here in Britain. As I was surfing the blogstream, wind in my hair, I lighted upon a post by Terence Corcoran of Canada’s Financial Post.

He writes about the humble dandelion, which is tearing across Canada, epidemic-like, confounding by-laws,and winning the hearts of many.

Canadian city Calgary used to slap fines on those who let dandelions grow on their lawns. But no longer. As long as the flowers are shorter than 15cm, they will not be considered offensive, the authorities have told residents.

Pesticide bans in many areas have meant a spread of the assertive bright yellow flower; and many argue that not only is it essentially harmless but it is edible: a resource for our future.

Mr Corcoran does not like the flower, and nor, I confess, do I. But he accords it a very important label indeed: he calls it The Official Flower of Statism.


The dandelions, he says, are growing because of the state-wide bans on pesticides which were a knee-jerk reaction to a law suit over dandelion pesticides which has since been settled out of court.

The original fears over health risks appear to have been groundless. But still the pesticide ban remains. Ergo, says Mr Corcoran, we all have to put up with these insufferable weeds simply because the state has backed them.

Oooh. The dandelion is a flower of statism. I never even knew statism existed until today. Could it be an example of another word I found today?

An ideograph is an idea, but not just any idea.

It is usually a hotwire, emotive word. It expresses a great big ideology, but when you actually start to think about what it means, its meaning has a nasty habit of running through your fingers like so much sand.

For example: liberty. This is something politicians bang on about all the time. But it can mean all things to all men. Pinning it down to specifics is like trying to stuff a live eel into a jar and keep it there.

But it is a crowd stirrer: think of ‘justice’. It is as if our brains pounce on the word and its many weighty connotations, and accord its user special powers.

Michael Calvin McGhee, an American scholar, coined the phrase. He pointed out that President Nixon used ‘the principle of confidentiality’ as if it were a talisman against Congress during the Watergate investigation, defending his decision not to turn over vital documents.

That principle of confidentiality, my friends, is an ideograph. A captivating idea which might sway millions; which seems to carry a moral weight equal to law; and yet, when someone probes it further it can disappear in a puff of insubstantiality and fell a president.

And it occurs to me, someone is trying to fell the humble dandelion with one too.

A repost: because everyone should know about ideographs.


28 thoughts on “Dandelions and ideographs

  1. Thanks for another new word Kate. I know it as rhetoric and In our multi lingual society, politicians use it with great effect. People are getting wiser though.
    Delightful adjectives and metaphors as always 🙂

    1. Pleasure, Madhu. I have been rummaging for this post for ages, because I had forgotten the term. Such a useful way of pinpointing what so many do. It is hoodwinking on a massive scale.

  2. My father’s favourite flower:) I allow them to brighten up my ‘wild garden’ – I use their flowers for dye stuff for fleece and yarn – I don’t eat them because they are a trifle bitter for me (old enough to like ‘sweet’ instead of dry wine:(

    can’t the bright, bold and brash flowers mingle with the wild? why does it always have to be just one thing, one idea? The oldies had the idea in their cottage gardens – flowers with the fruit and veg – the human eye enjoys diversity as well as the wild life:)

    has he stopped smelling yet?

    1. What a great point, Alberta. We forget that the cottage gardens of old were made by taming the wild and bringing it in to grow because of its usefulnesss as much as its beauty. Of course there must be room for both.

      And no, he is a stinky pinky animal.

  3. Dandelions seem to be popping up in the blogosphere as much as in our lawns and on our roadsides this week. So much to say about such a weed/flower/vegetable?
    I’ve eaten them, as a child, and do not like them. Too bitter for my tastes. My Greek grandmother would pick them for salads or boil them, ala spinach. These days, hereabouts, one can actually buy them in the upper crust groceries.

    Ideograph. Good word to have in my pocket, Kate. Thanks

    Oh, I may have asked before, but, have you read Ray Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine?

    1. I love that man, but no, I have just consulted Phil and we don’t think we have. It’s a communcal thing because Bradbury is a staple part of our night time audio regime. Must seek it out! Thanks, Penny!

    1. Looks absorbing, Tammy. That’s quite an opener:”Hi, I’m your neigbour and I’d like to eat your weeds” 😀 Foraging. One step closer to our roots!

  4. Loved the dandelion seed heads as a child, blowing them apart and to the four winds. Not so much now, since I pay to keep them out of my small yard. I’m still intrigued by the large wild ones, though. The ones that grow beautiful seed heads of perhaps four inches in diameter. Spraying them with hair spray to hold them together and trying to get them home intact for a dried flower arrangement is a real challenge.

  5. Somehow I can’t see Stalin saying “Forward with our 5 year dandelion programme comrades” – I like dandelions, daisys too, but I draw the line at buttercups Kate.

  6. You should see our churchyard! People sometimes think it is not kept up properly, but in actuality a lot of work goes into have a natural garden in the middle of a city. Horticulturalists have actually come to study the plants we have because a few are found no where else any more. A certain wild, natural beauty certainly is appealing. Here is a quick link to some photos – http://www.MichaelCarnell.com/churchyard

  7. I’d rather put up with dandelions that pesticides . . . but you’ve made a good point here. Especially about trying to get that eel to stay put. You really need a lid. :mrgreen:

    1. Eels are strong blighters, Nancy. You ever wrestled one?” Lids?” They’d say to you.” I laugh in the face of your puny lid.” and they’d brush it aside with one impatient waft of their tail.

  8. ‘Groundless fears on pesticides’ is almost another ideograph. No fears on pesticides are groundless. The stuff is always harmful, in one way or another.

  9. I am caught up these days in studying ecological remedies that bring about unintended consequences. Even sound remedies have results that bring about other concerns. In my book, dandelions don’t need to be treated as weeds, but I think attitudes are slowly shifting in their favor. Ideographs–confidentiality-Nixon–after 40 years history is repeating itself. American political scandal is alive and well under the guise of confidentiality. Nothing new under the sun.

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