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.