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Words new to me: мать-и-мачеха

August 19, 2013
Coltsfoot. Click the image to go to a Russian forum with a (folk?) etymology, medicinal uses, and recipes

Coltsfoot. Click the image to go to a Russian forum with a (folk?) etymology, medicinal uses, and recipes

Separately the words mean “mother and stepmother,” but мать-и-мачеха is a botanical term. The English common name is apparently coltsfoot, and the scientific name Tussilago farfara. It looks like a dandelion to me, but apparently they’re not closely related. The word comes up in Leskov’s No Way Out (Некуда, 1864), book 1, chapter 30. It’s in quotes, I think to highlight its metaphorical-ness (was there a competing, more official-sounding common name at the time?), and the actual plant doesn’t appear – the leaves of certain water-plants are compared in shape to its leaves.

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