People attending a dance who just stand or sit around watching are sometimes called “wallflowers.” This informal term, usually applied to girls, is apparently adapted from actual plants of the mustard family that often grow on walls or cliffs.

People attending a dance who just stand or sit around watching are sometimes called “wallflowers.” This informal term, usually applied to girls, is apparently adapted from actual plants of the mustard family that often grow on walls or cliffs.

The plants use the walls for support and, in the case of the limestone cliffs they seem to favor, they probably derive nutrients from them.

Staying away from the dance floor and near the walls is not necessarily by choice for human wallflowers. As Webster’s puts it, it’s “sometimes from shyness but usually from not having been chosen as a partner.”

So a wallflower is only occasionally a “shrinking violet” — “a very shy or unassuming person.”

The term “shy violet” is also used, but I prefer “shrinking.” For one thing, it’s a more dramatic image. For another, “shy,” when applied to plants, can mean “not bearing or breeding well; unproductive.”

I would rather avoid that one in this case.

“Violet” comes from the Latin for the flower, “viola.” But the names of the stringed instrument “viola” and others — “viol,” “violin” and “violoncello” — come from a different Latin root: “vitulari,” meaning “to rejoice,” which eventually was transformed into “fiddle.”

Of course, “violet” is also one of the colors of the rainbow, at the shorter-wave end of the visible spectrum. Beyond that is “ultraviolet.”

Speaking of the beyond, the slang phrase “push up (the) daisies” for “to be dead and buried” has been around since 1860, according to “American Slang.”

From the practice of stringing the flowers together comes the phrase “daisy chain,” which can be applied to “any interlinked series.” Sadly, since 1941, it also has been used to refer to certain, shall we say, adult activities.

Webster’s says “daisy” also is old slang for “something excellent.” That must be really old.

As for “upsy-daisy,” there doesn’t seem to be a certain connection with the flower. Webster’s says this term is a “baby-talk extension of ‘up,’” for “up you go: used playfully or for reassurance, as in lifting a small child.”

Numerous spelling variants exist, including some like “oops-a-daisy,” used in the sense of “oops” rather than “up.” I suspect the “daisy” portion in each of these phrases was added just because it sounds good.

Something else that sounds good is being “in clover” — “living a life of ease and luxury.” To which Webster’s adds “as cattle in good pasture.”

Another connection from the world of farm animals is given in “American Slang”: “like pigs in clover.” It says this has been around since the 1800s and is “probably a euphemized version” of another phrase about happy pigs in a substance considerably less sweet-smelling than clover.

And I don’t mean roses, which I’ll write about next week.

Finally, the “gardenia” is named not for just any garden, but for “A. Garden,” says Webster’s.

That would be botanist, zoologist and physician Alexander Garden, who was born in Scotland in 1730 but settled in Charleston, S.C. Apparently his work didn’t really involve the genus that bears his name.

Oops-a-daisy!

Contact Rockford Register Star writer Barry Wood at bwood@rrstar.com or read his blog at blogs.e-rockford.com/woodonwords/.