BÈNÁRDE / hogweed

photo source: wikimedia

bènárde“, s.f., pronounced [bɛ:närd] 🔊, is the Sarkese name for “hogweed” or “cow parsnip” (Heracleum sphondylium), a wild flower of Sark which grows in cultivated fields. Due to similarities of the flowering parts, it can be, for a beginner, mistaken for both “aléxandre“, alisander, an edible and palatable plant, which used to be a common base for salads in Sark in the olden days, and “pemfê“, hemlock and hemlock water dropwort, both extremely toxic weeds.

origin: Celto-Romance / first recorded for Sarkese: 1930s? (JPC) / current status in the 21st century: preserved, in use

The word “bènárde” is a feminine invariable noun (a she-word that doesn’t change). In Sarkese it is a countable noun, meaning it may be easily counted, f.e. “une bènárde”, one hogweed, “deù bènárde”, two hogweeds, with a regular pronounciation (the first vowel ‘è’ is a simple long [ɛ:], “è”, and the ‘á’ a stark [ä].

On the origin – Who was first, a soup, a bear or a watercress?

Regarding the origin of the word “bènarde”, it is mostly complexe, and has been one of the biggest mysteries among the names of flowers in Sarkese. In the Channel Islands and the whole of Normandy, the same name for the given plant has been observed only in Jersey, as the almost identical “bênarde”. Outside of Normandy, within the Gallo-Romance languages, we were able to find only one similar form, “paxhnåde”, the name for hogweed in the Waloon language of Belgium.

As for the folk etymology, in Jersey, it has been, for some reason, claimed that “bênarde”, and therefore even the Sarkese “bènárde”, derives from the name of Saint Bernard of Clairveux. To support such a claim, however, we weren’t able to trace any clear reference or source, and the backround of the link is unknown to us. The only “Saint Bernard” we are aware of that could be somehow related (but isn’t either in our opinion), would be Saint Bernard of Thiron, who actually lived in the Channel Islands, in Chausey to be more precise, as a hermit, and who, secluded, one could imagine, had to depend on local flora for nourishment, hogweed perhaps included – but we believe that no saint has, in reality, anything to do with our “bènarde”.

As for the Waloon “paxhnåde”, some on-line open dictionaries claim, it is derived from the word “pâturage”, pasturage – if that were true, we wouldn’t be able to explain an unsual transition from “pât-” to “bèn-” in Sarkese and Jèrriais (Jersey Norman), of course, only if we assume that the two Norman forms are indeed related to the Waloon name. However, we assume a different etymology for “paxhnåde” anyway, see the end of the article.

It should be noted that in many European languages, the name for hogweed, and several other similar plants, such us hemlock, coincidently share a “ber-“/”bar-” radical, althought it is believed that the origins is of this “ber-“/”bar-” are different. In French it is “berce”, in Polish “barszcz”, in German “bärenklau” etc. As for the supposed origins of the given examples, only the Polish “barszcz”, as well as the famous Ukranian soup’s name, is believed to conserve the original Indo-European name for the plant. Regarding other similar names for hogweed in European languages, linguistis aren’t always sure of their origin or they assume later innovations, like in Germanic languages where the root comes from the word for “bear” (if truly so).

Anyway – we could presume so far (if we didn’t have more options) three possible origins: 1) the Old Indo-European root in the name for hogweed, related to the Polish “barszcz”, 2) the Germanic root from the word for “bear” or actually the name Bernard, or 3) an unknown Romance root. Nonetheless, a Jersey linguist Frank le Maistre already proposed, most insightfully, as one of the options for the related Jersey word “bênarde”, a possible link with the Jersey Norman word “bêle” and the French “berle”, thus presenting another possible root and origin for our bènárde.

Oldest known mention of Gallo-Latin “berula”

Although F. le Maistre did not explore the question further, the Jersey Norman “bêle” (meaning “speedwell/brooklime” and “fool’s watercress”) and the French “berle” (“waterparsnip”, in Old French “fool’s watercess” too), but also the Guernsey Norman “bête” (fool’s watercress) are all originating in the Gallo-Latin “berula”, based on the Old Gaulish name for “fool’s watercress” or “waterparsnip”, itself related to the Breton “beler” and the Old Breton “beror” (“watercress”, “fool’s watercress”, “waterparsnip” etc.), the Welsh “berwr” and even the Irish “biolar”, both meaning “watercress”, all originating from the Old Celtic “beruro” of the same meaning.

In the Romance languages of Northern France and their varieties, names for watercress (the Brassiceae family) and for waterparsnip, waterdropwort and even hemlock (all three from the Apiceae family) tend to interchange easily, especially in the past and very often from one village to another. An amazing insight is given by the documenation of the Romance language spoken in Upper Brittany, called Galo, from the end of the 20th century, clearly demonstrating this tendency. It may seem strange that watercress could be confused with tall hemlock-like weeds which are very different in appearence, however, “fool’s watercress” may be indeed easily mistaken with “lesser water-parsnip”, a hemlock-like weed, which is part of the hemlock family, as well as, to some extent, with hemlock water-dropwort, which all three share the same habitat – and there you have the link and the base of name confusion in the languages of Armorica regarding watercresses and hemlocks.

photo source: wikimedia

In the Channel Islands, the reason why, unlike in Modern French, one of the word’s meanings cannot be “water-parsnip” is simply because there is no kind of “water-parsnip” of the Sium or Berula family growing in the islands (at least in the past), and therefore the meaning of the Jersey Norman “bêle” and the Guernsey Norman “bête” is primarely “fool’s watercress”. In Sark, however, no short form close to “bêle”, “bête” or “berle” is known, while anything we may call “watercress” in English, be it Apium nodiflorum or Nasturtium officinale, is called “créson” in Sarkese. Now, how could ever these “bêle”, “bête” or “berle” be related to the Sarkese “bènárde”, a name for a very different kind of flower?

Firstly, we established that in the languages spoken in old Armorica, names for “watercress” and hemlock-like weeds often switch and interchange, see above. Most importantly, the forms derived from the Gaulish “berul-“, most probably meaning fool’s watercress (Apium nodiflorum), change in Romance languages dramatically, from “berle” to , “bêle”, “bêle”, “béle”, and most importantly for us, even to “bène”.

The Galo language, the only Gallo-Romance language in direct and continuous contact with a Celtic language, has in its many varieties conserved all the mentioned forms in the names for watercress, hemlock and even hogweed, especially the “bène” form. Knowning that in one of the variety of the Galo language, not only the form “bène” exists, but that it is also a name for hogweed, we may have found our missing piece for the Sarkese “bènárde”.

The “n” in the “bène” form is a result of a known transition due to the contact of “r” and “l”, which could easily be the “bèn-” in our “bènárde”. As for the “-árde” ending, it is the feminine variation of the ending “-árd”, originating in Old Frankish “strong”, which lost its original meaning in Gallo-Romance languages with a slightly pejorative touch. Even though today, there isn’t a plant called “bène” or “bêle” today in Sarkese, given that it is in (not only) Jersey Norman and Guernsey Norman, it is quite safe to assume there was one from which our “bènárde” could have been derived.

If we have truly identified the origin of the Sarkese “bènárde”, the original meaning based on known equivalents in the Galo language, would be (some centuries ago) something like “water-hemlockish plant” or “hemlockard” :), which is quite fitting for hogweed, don’t you think?

photo source: wikimedia

Nonetheless, even after this long “backround story” we elaborated for the Sarkese and Jersey Norman word “bènárde”-“bênarde”, and its precursors such bêle, bêne, berle and even the Gallo-Latin “berul-“, we can never exlude other possible sources or influences, more or less direct – which brings us back the Picard “paxhnåde”.

Although a different etymology for “paxhnåde” is given today (from “pâturage”), we believe, as well as serious sources, it is actually derived from a known historical form “pastenade”, coresponding to another form, issued via corruption, “pastenarde”. It thus could be that the Sarkese “bènárde” is actually a hypothetical “pastenarde” influenced by now lost “bêne”/”bêle”. Either way, the old Celto-Latin “berula”, first mentionned already by Marcellus of Bordeaux in his famous medical book, would be behind our “bènárde” 🙂


Citation: NEUDÖRFL, Martin. bènárde/hogweed. In: Sark Norman Dictionary Online [on-line]. https://www.bonjhur.net/sndo-vocab-flora-benarde

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