For the most part, variation in pronunciation is based on the many shades of sound to be found in vowels, as anyone who has traveled abroad can appreciate. Pronunciations of the same Latin word by Americans, British, Italians, Spaniards, Japanese, etc. sometimes only vaguely approximate one another. We list vowels first, followed by a few consonants. The reader should have little difficulty in sounding the syllables as shown in the pronunciation guide.
a = a as in about
ab = ab as in absent
ad = ad as in advertise
af = af as in after
ag = ag as in aggravate
ah = a as in star
ak = ac as in active
al = al as in altitude
all = all as in fall
am = am as in amber
an = an as in ant
aw = aw as in saw
ay = ay as in say
i = i as in it
e = e as in often
ee = ee as in see
eh = e as in pet
eye = i as in pie
ew = ew as in few
o = o as in offer
oh = o as in bone
oo = oo as in soon
ow = ow as in how
oy = oy as in boy
u = u as in butter
uh - u as in medium
ff = ff as in stuff
g = g as in good
j = g as in ginger
k = k as in kite
s = s as in sing
ss = ss as in kiss
th = th as in thin
z = z as in zebra
For spoken word audio files of orchid genera see Orchids A to Z (login required, must have sound card).
An Orchidist's Glossary: introduction
(Members Only content)
Welcome to the online version of the out-of-print AOS publication, An Orchidist's Glossary. This web version is a work in progress and has certain advantages over print. Over time, additional photos and multimedia will be added to the glossary.
A glossary is an alphabetical list of concepts, terms and words within a given f field of knowledge or science. It is in this sense that we have called this an Orchidist's Glossary. It views the listed words from the viewpoint of an orchidist only, and thus is most meaningful when limited to its field. It is far from fully comprehensive, but it does embrace a fairly wide range of words used by orchid growers, orchid botanists and various orchid authors.
The words listed herein are printed in several different typefaces. This is intended to aid the reader in quickly distinguishing whether the word refers to a botanical term, a specific name of an orchid, a genus name or an orchid personality.
Boldface - terms used by orchidists, either in a botanical sense, such as acaulescent, or in a horticultural sense, such as
CAPITALS and SMALL CAPITALS - names of persons prominent in the history of orchids, whether they be botanists, collectors, hybridizers or growers. Within parentheses following the name is the year of birth and the year of death, where known.
Ordinary roman type - trade names or products referred to in orchid literature. Their inclusion in this glossary is not to be taken as an endorsement nor as instruction on their use.
Italics - botanical names of orchids and are for the most part derived from Latin or Greek. If the italicized word has a capital initial, it is the name of an orchid genus. Italicized words not beginning with a capital initial are the species names, more correctly termed "specific epithets."
SEARCH: Use your computer's operating system search function to find words. Keystroke Ctrl. F (Cmd. F) and enter word or first few letters if you do not know how to spell the word. If you are looking for a synonym, type the word you know.
SOUNDFILES: Audio icon indicates spoken pronounciation of word.
About Orchid Names
Specific epithets are in Latin or in Latinized form. Since most are adjectives or adjectival in use, they must agree in gender with the gender of the genus to which they are attached. For this reason, most of the specific epithets listed are followed by one or two endings, each preceded by a hyphen; for example, the very first word under "A" is
abbreviatus, -a, -um. In the case of the specific epithets ending in -us, the masculine form is shown first, followed by the feminine ending
(-a) and then the neuter ending (-um). Some Latin adjectives, belonging to a different declension, end in
-is; this form is both masculine and feminine, so only the neuter ending,
-e, is added. An example is acaulis, -e. Occasionally, a participial form is used as an adjective, in which case the specific epithet ends in -ens or in
-ans in all genders, eliminating the need to show additional endings; an example is
repens or fragrans.
Some specific epithets are taken directly from the Greek and retain the same form for all genders;
chlorops is an example. Similarly, for various reasons, some Latin forms keep the same form for all genders; among these are
anceps, ferox, major, minor and teres, to name but a few. Basically, the rules of classical (or Greek) grammar provide the rationale behind this seemingly arbitrary usage.
To ignore the content of the words is to overlook a fascinating world. The specific epithets that are descriptive adjectives are the easiest to understand; this is fortunate, since they probably constitute the largest group of such scientific names. The generic name is treated as a noun (which it is) with the specific epithet describing it as to color, form, structure, size, habit or some similar characteristic. For example,
Cattleya violacea is the violet-colored Cattleya; Oncidium
macranthum, the large-flowered Oncidium; Cypripedium acaule, the stemless
Cypripedium; Lycaste gigantea, the gigantic Lycaste; Goodyera
repens, the creeping Goodyera; and Eulophia alta, the tall Eulophia.
A few orchid species have specific epithets derived from the names of other genera of orchids, such as
Dendrobium phalaenopsis, Miltoniopsis phalaenopsis, Maxillaria sophronitis, and
Dendrobium sophronitis, for example.
Resemblance to another orchid, a plant of a different family, or some distinctive object may be expressed in the specific epithet; such terms usually end in
-oides, as Encyclia oncidioides, the Oncidium-like Encyclia; or
Thelymitra ixioides, the Thelymitra that resembles an Ixia; or
Pleurothallis tribuloides, the Pleurothallis with a flower resembling a Roman
tribulus, a four-pronged iron instrument. Parenthetically, according to W.T. Stearn's authoritative volume titled Botanical Latin, now in its third edition, every vowel in Latin or even Latinized Greek is pronounced, so that
-oides should be pronounced "oh-EYE-deez" rather than "OY-deez." However, the latter pronunciation has fallen into such common usage among even professionals that the former would sound odd.
The country or place of origin may be indicated in the specific epithet; for example,
Sobralia panamensis, the Sobralia native to Panama; Luisia
zeylanica, the Ceylonese Luisia; or Spiranthes sinensis, the Spiranthes native to China.
Many orchids are named to commemorate people, and such specific epithets sometimes are governed by the following practice. If the name is a tribute to someone who has not been associated with that particular species in some manner but is simply being honored, the adjectival form
-ianus, -a, -um, usually is used. Statesmen, patrons and benefactors were often thus glorified, as in such species as
Paphiopedilum chamberlainianum (Joseph Chamberlain), Vanda sanderiana (Frederick Sander), or
Phalaenopsis stuartiana (Stuart Low). If the person being honored had collected the orchid or was responsible in some way for its introduction into horticulture, the specific epithet might then be put into the genitive singular of a Latinized form of the person's name. If the person honored is a man, the suffix is
-ii as in Brassia allenii (Paul Allen). If the person honored is a woman, the suffix
-iae is used, as for Cattleya mossiae (Mrs. Moss, in whose collection the species flowered).
While the proposal was made by Dr. Lindley in 1832 that specific epithets commemorating persons be governed by the procedures cited above, few botanists followed it, so that one cannot determine from the name of a species whether the person commemorated had anything to do with the species in question. For many decades, specific epithets commemorating a person were capitalized; while this is still preferred by a few taxonomists, the recommendation of the International Code of Botanical Nomenclature is to decapitalize all specific epithets regardless of their origins.
The names of genera are equally meaningful if we delve into their origins and derivations. One finds another Alice-in-Wonderland world when seeking the meanings in some of the cryptic generic names created by classically trained orchid taxonomists of the past. Within the text of this glossary, we touch briefly on this subject, but the reader can find more extensive coverage in Generic Names of Orchids by Schultes and Pease (1963). Suffice to say that little is required by the International Code of Botanical Nomenclature beyond a standard Latinization. The Code states: "The name of a genus is a substantive in the singular number of a word treated as such. It may be taken from any source whatever and may even be composed in an absolutely arbitrary manner." Even anagrams, such as
Nidema (rearranged Dinema) and Sedirea (Aerides spelled backward), may be used.
Were language only written, we might well conclude this introduction at this point. But words were first spoken, and then written language followed. As a result, we come face to face with the controversial subject of pronunciation.
All terminology in this glossary, with the exception of personal names and trade names, have a pronunciation guide in parentheses immediately following the word and, where necessary, the gender endings. In the pronunciation guide, each syllable is separated by a hyphen. Unstressed syllables are in lower case letters; those syllables printed in CAPITALS are stressed — that is, the accent falls on these. Occasionally, a word with many syllables may require a secondary accent, but in the interest of simplicity we have avoided its use on the principle that if the main accented syllable is stressed, the rest will follow.
We have not followed Academic Reformed Latin in favor of the traditional English form of Latin as commonly used in medicine, law or ordinary speech
(angina pectoris, habeas corpus, vice versa) in the United States. Thus the broad "a" (ah) of Latin becomes the long "a" (ay) when accented in such endings as
-atus (ay-tus) or -anum (ay-num).