JÒNE MÉNLEU / corn daisy

photo source: wikimedia

jòne ménleu“, s.m., pronounced [d͡ʒɔ:n mɛ̃nlœə̯] 🔊, is the Sarkese name for “corn daisy” or “corn marigold” (Glebionis segetum or Chrysanthemum seg.), one of the common flowers of Sark, believed to be introduced to Western Europe, Sark included, thousands of years ago, with the spread of ancient agriculture from the Mediterranean. In Sarkese, corn daisy belongs to the group of plants we call “ménleu“, meaning “daisy” or “daisy-like weed”. However, to distinguish it from the other daisies, especially “błȧn ménleu“, common daisy, and “márgerite“, oxeye daisy, we always add the adjective “jòne“, yellow, so literarly “yellow daisy”. The name itself, which is one of the few Sark Norman names still well known even by last semi-speakers today, has a most intriguing origin, possibly coserving both the Old Gallo-Romance and Celtic word for “honey-yellow”, the original name for the flower in these two ancient languages.

origin: Celto-Romance (Gaulish?) / first recorded for Sarkese: 1970s (PB) / current status in the 21st century: preserved, in use

“jòne ménleu” is a compound name. The main noun “ménleu” is masculine, invariable and uncountable (a he-word that doesn’t change), with the adjective “jòne” being invariable too. Since the name is uncountable, the plural form “daisies” isn’t common and we prefer to combine the name with the so-called partitive, when talking about “corn daisy” in general, so “du jòne ménleu”, as in “I’y a du jòne ménleu dàn l’cłô.”, meaning “There are corn daisies in the field”. However, if we wanted to specify a number of corn daisies, we may go around saying f.e. “deù fłeur d’jòne ménleu”, two flowers of corn daisy, or “trê mórsyò d’jòne ménleu”, three pieces etc. The pronunciation is regular, though it should be remembered that ‘én’ in “ménleu” indicates that we have to pronounce a clear full [n], unlike in ‘en’ or ’em’ without any accent, as in “ben”, “pemfê” etc. where the ‘n’ and ‘m’ stand for simple nasal vowels only.

On the meaning: ménleu vs jòne ménleu

photo source: wikimedia

The word “ménleu“, on its own, is the actual original name for corn daisy in the native Romance and Celtic languages on both sides of the Channel (see bellow). Nevertheless, in some Norman languages, the meaning of the word broadened and “corn marigold” shifted to “daisy”. This means that today when we say simply “ménleu“, we usually mean lawn daisies, or “daisy-like weed” really, especially of white colour, which, nevertheless, may include flowers that we wouldn’t count among daisies in English (see the SNDO entry “ménleu“), such as sea campions.

We may argue whether first we started to say “błȧn ménleu“, lit. “white corn marigold” for lawn daisy, before we started to add “jòne” to “ménleu” to say “corn marigold”, but in the end, it all led to today’s “jòne ménleu”, which is the standard name for “corn marigold” in Sarkese. Funilly, since “ménleu” comes from the ancient word for yellow or honey-yellow, “jòne ménleu” is actually sort of a cross-linguistical pleonasm, as we actually say “yellow yellow-daisy”, see bellow.

On the origin – when the Gauls and the Romans met

The Sarkese name for corn marigold or corn daisy was first recorded in the 70s by P. Brasseur, who provides us with two back-then possible pronunciations for the main noun “ménleu”: our “ménleu”, the one which is still used today, and “mélleu”, which has been lost and is not acceptable anymore. On the other Channel Islands, corn marigold, which was introduced to the region eons ago, possibly during the Neolithic Revolution or later with the arrival of grain, is known as “murlu” in Guernsey Norman and “mèneleu” in the Norman language of Jersey, pronounced almost the same way, like we do in Sarkese, although without the adjective “yellow” added. Crossing over the sea to the Mainland, we find similar names all over Normandy, very often containing the initial “mer(l)-” or “mir(l)-“, indicating there was once one common word in the Old Norman language for our honey-yellow flower, but again, without the adjective for “yellow”.

As for the origin of the unusual forms presented above, since daisies are sometimes associated with monks with their ovary and petals looking like a shaved head (tosure) of a medieval holy man, especially oxeye daisies, one would understandably first look for a relation between the “mén-” and the Gallo-Romance “moine”, monk- nevertheless that is, etymologically speaking, inacceptable. Moreover, the many forms like “merl-“, “murl-” and “mirl-” or with the double “-ll-“, once documented for Sarkese too, which would be a regular evolutionary result in pronunciation from an older “mérl-“, clearly indicate there was once a different word of origin, common for all the Norman languages of today.

If a Gaul, a Roman and a Sarkee met …

It has been proposed that all these forms come from the Latin “melinus”, derived from “mel”, honey in Latin, with the meaning of “honey(-related)”, with a possible change of meaning to “honey-coloured” or “quince-coloured” etc., reflecting the flower’s actual colour. It is also noteworthy though, that similar names, genetically close to the Latin “melinus” are still common in some Celtic languages, with the meaning of “yellow”, as the words for “honey” in Romance and Celtic languages (and many other, except Germanic) share the same Indo-European ancestor. The great authors of FEW, who were aware of the obscure Norman name for corn daisy, themselves noticed the striking resemblance between “melinus” with “melin” and “melyn”, meaning yellow in Cornish and Welsh, and “melen” in Breton. Moreover, they also noticed that in both the Celtic-speaking and the Romance-speaking part of Brittany, the names for corn daisy are very similar to the those in Norman languages: in Breton meleneg, melenig, melerig, mernig etc. and in Gallo (local Romance language) malneu, merneu, medleu, melleu and even – menleu – which quite clearly corresponds to the Sarkese “ménleu”, and the Jérriais “mèneleu”.

It is evident that in the Breton, Gallo and Norman speaking parts of Northern France, some varieties of the local languages derive the names for corn daisy from “melinus”/”melin”, and we may speculate why – but most probably due to a language contact and the coincidence of the two close words. It is possible to imagine that when the Romans came to Old Armorica (today’s Britanny and Western Normandy), the local Gaulish tribes may already have been calling the corn daisy something like “melin-” which the Romans understood and called it themselves “melinus”. Whether this was a reality, or the Latin “melinus” was actually the first such name for corn daisy in the region, later on, when the Britons, fleeing from Britain during the Anglo-Saxon invasion, settled in now Latin-only-speaking Armorica and brought back a celtic language to it, they may have either adopted the local name, as they understood the concept “melin”-“melinus”, or introduced the name which again, local Gallo-Romans would understand well. As we can, however find similar names even in the eastern part of Normandy, where we can rule out any Brythonic influence, it is clear the name predates the arrival of the Britons – nonethless, the later Briton input in the West must have at least strenghened the melin-melinus name in the region.

As for our Sarkese form, the question is, whether “ménleu” is a direct descendent of “melinus”-“melin” with only one consonant shift from “l-n” to “n-l”, or whether it (more probably) represents a case of reevolution based on several consonant assimilations, such as from ‘l-n’ to ‘l-l’, then (“l-r”) and “r-l”, and finally to the reversed”n-l”. The latter seems more probable, since another historic form, mélleu, was documented in the past.

King Kenneth I.

Finally, to add one more trivia to this most interesting word, another surprising name for corn daisy resurfaced in our research – on old Gaelic name for a sort of yellow weed, “manelet”. It appears for the first time as “maneleta” in a Latin transcription of a Scottish law, alledegly issued already by the king Kenneth of Dál Riata, the traditional founder of the modern kingdom of Scotland. A very harsh law states that if “manelets” are found in a tenant’s field, indicating he is not taking a good care of the land entrusted to him, he will first forfeit an ox – after a subsequent inspection, if no changes have been made, 10 oxen, and if it is found that he hasn’t cleared the field again later on, then the land itself. The resemblance between “manelet” and “ménleu”/”mèneleu” is striking again. Although corn marigold may be toxic to cattle in large quantities, it is possible also that the law concerns not corn daisies or marigolds, as the later English sources have it, but possibly ragwort, a yellow weed which far much more dangerous, known as antâłì in Sarkese. Nonetheless, as we lack sources, it is unclear, whether “ménleu”, known in Sark, Jersey and Upper Brittany, and “manelet” mentioned in an ancient Scottish law (though clearly meaning “honey-yellow plant”) are related only via Latin, or whether they evolved in these similar forms by coincidence from Latin and Old Celtic.

In Sark, similarly, as in ancient Scotland, “jòne ménleu” has been known to be toxic to cattle and horses, and in the days when the grain used to be hand processed, it was always checked for containing seeds of corn marigold, something some Sarkese still remember from their childhood from before the mechanization of processing wheat and grain. On the other hand due to more and more sofisticated processing technologies, “corn marigold” one of the most important pollinators, is on an alarming decline in many European countries.

To finish the intriguing backstory of our “ménleu”, an ancient name for corn marigold, shared by the Celts and the Romans and preserved to our days in some of the languages still spoken in the Old Armorica, Sark Norman included, we may conclude that the word, over the centuries, broadened its meaning and today, “ménleu” means “daisy” or “daisy-like weed” in Sarkese. When we want to specify that we are talking about corn daisy, we have to, unlike in the other Norman languages, always add the adjective “yellow”, “jòne”, so “du jòne ménleu”, practically saying “yellow yellow daisy” 🙂


Citation: NEUDÖRFL, Martin. jòne ménleu/corn daisy. In: Sark Norman Dictionary Online [on-line]. https://www.bonjhur.net/sndo-vocab-flora-menleu-jone

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