Lupine – Lupin: It’s that Weird English Language Again!

Last night, I finished reading Butterflies in November by Audur Ava Olafsdottir. It is a novel set in Iceland by an Icelandic author. I found it to be a quirky tale without a lot of plot, but entertaining to read. The ending was awful, as it just abruptly stopped, as if the writer said, “okay, that’s enough!” The book let me down, as I rushed to the finished line and never got the end to the story.

Oh, well. Not every book is a great read, I know that. I picked this novel off the library shelves two weeks ago, along with one by Elin Hildebrand called The Identicals that I did not care for all that much, either.

One thing that I found interesting in this book was the lupins the main character encounters on her Rim Road trip on the island. Lupins are a flowering plant. I recently talked about its similarity to milkweed with a DNR biologist. Just like monarch caterpillars will only feed off of milkweed, karner blue butterfly larva will only feed off of wild blue lupine. When we were talking, I noted that I said lupine (long i) and he said lupin (short i).

Wild Blue Lupine. Holland Sand Prairie. © Carol Labuzzetta, 2019.

Well, because I learned to spell phonetically (the rage in the late 60’s) and helped my son with phonetics while he was learning to read 14 years ago, I know that an e on the end of a word, makes the previous vowel long (say its own name).  So, when I read lupine, I say luPINE. I didn’t correct the biologist when he said lupin and he didn’t correct me. But, we both notice we said the word differently despite both knowing exactly what plant we were talking about. When I read lupin, I say  luPIN.  I’ve always chalked this up to being brought up somewhere other than the mid-west. I the DNR guy, probably chalked it up to my not knowing how to say the plant’s name.  Hmmm.

When I read about the fields and fields of lupines that the main character encounters in the Icelandic novel, I again started wondering about this word and how it is REALLY spelled and really pronounced.

This is what I found. Lupins are the flower that I am so enamored of. They are otherwise known as bluebonnets in other parts of the U.S. such as Texas.  Lupins are also very controversial right now in Iceland as they have become invasive.  Once given out by handfuls of seed to any Icelander filling up at a gas station to take home and plant, helping prevent erosion, lupins now are considered an invasive plant! There is a movement underway to eradicate them, despite their popularity with tourists coming to view them in the lava fields. 

Lupine, on the other hand, refers to something with wolf-like properties.  9Having a rather large vocabulary, I knew that too. But, my confusion comes in when seed catalogs spell the word lupine, not lupin.  Just do a google search for lupin seeds and you’ll see a mix of both spellings both referring to the plant, not the wolf. To confuse matters further, Merriam Webster.com has the same spelling, lupine, with two different pronunciations depending on whether you are using the word as a noun (the flower) or an adjective (wolfish).  Lupin, as it turns out, is just a less common spelling but how we are supposed to pronounce the word if it refers to the flowers.

Ugh! No wonder the English language is so hard to learn and understand.  I know more now, about lupine vs. lupin, but I’ll still probably continue to pronounce the flower luPINE.  Phonetically, it just makes sense. And, if someone corrects me in the future, at least I’ll have a story behind why I call these beautiful flowers by a slightly different name.

New Lupine Plants in my yard. © Carol Labuzzetta, 2018.

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