Foundational Friend (I'll call her that because it was through her that I met much of my English social circle--including Better Half) stayed over last night and had the misfortune of seeing me this morning. Never a pretty sight--but particularly nasty today as I was horribly sneezy and snotty. I nodded toward a bouquet on the dresser and said, "I'm allergic to mums." FF followed my nod and it clicked. "Oh," she said, "you mean chrysanthemums." Yes, I did, and that must've been the fifth time I've had that exact exchange with an Englishperson. Will I never learn?

(I may learn to say chrysanthemum in full, but I won't learn to bin them when they're given to me. I believe in suffering a little for beauty and kindness.)

Mum for chrysanthemum is another case of American word-clipping that isn't shared by most speakers of British English. Americans also say chrysanthemum, but if you were raised in the funeral business as I was, it's handy to have a quicker way to say the names of common funeral flowers--so I say mums and glads (= gladioli). I notice that most of the examples of glads in the OED (1989) come from outside Britain--Ireland and Australia.

I think UK florists are missing a great opportunity in not clipping their chrysanthemums. Imagine the ads running up to Mothering Sunday: Mums for Mum! (= AmE Mom). Yes, that's Mothering Sunday. While these days it's often called Mother's Day, many Brits consider that to be a crass American name for the day. It's also a different day. Mothering Sunday is the fourth Sunday during Lent, which means it's generally in March. American Mother's Day is the second Sunday in May. (The first Mother's Day was on the anniversary of the death of Ana Jarvis' mother, which happened to fall on a Sunday that year. Who is Ana Jarvis? She's the inventor of Mother's Day.)

What this all means is that if you're an American expat in a Mothering Sunday country, you buy a card for your mother in March, with the intention of sending it in May. But then since no one's advertising Mother's Day in May, you forget all about it until you find the card in July. Or until your mother phones with stories of all the lovely things your brothers did for her on Mother's Day. Still, it must be worse to be a British expat trying to remember Mothering Sunday ten months after anyone's mentioned Mother's Day.


  1. If I was to shorten chrysanthemums, I'd say chrysanths, I think. Certainly in AdoptedTown market, they shout that.

    Mothering sunday was originally the day when you returned to your 'Mother' church to worship. It originated in the north where many men had to move from the villages into the towns for work, I believe :)

  2. I agree...I would shorten it to chrysanths too. But this has cleared up a comment left on a post of mine by an American friend, about planting mums in her yard. I was a bit perplexed, to say the least, and had not got around to asking why she felt the need to plant maternal units in her garden ;-)

  3. Yep, checked the OED and chrysanth/chrysant is there. They also have mum, but don't note that there's a geographical divide as to who says what. You can see it in the quotations, though. Like glad, the quotations for mum indicate it as being used in Ireland, Australia and N America, while the quotations for chrysant(h) are all from British residents.

  4. As the instigator of many things in Lynne's British life, including, it would seem, a discussion of 'mums, I'd like to note that plenty of flower sellers call them 'mums in the UK. But it's a trade thing, almost florist jargon. I call them 'crysanths', like Kev.


  5. I read that Mothering Day was originally a religious holiday, and figgy pudding, among other things, is to be eaten then.

  6. Up here in the north of England the usage for one's mother is 'Mam'. But it's the devil's own job to find Mothering Sunday cards with 'Mam' rather than 'Mum'; it's easier to get 'Mom.

  7. In the US St Louis Area it IS traditional to give yor Mother mums on Mothers day! And it is advertised that give your Mom a Mum! America is taking the opportunity for sure!

  8. I've never heard of 'figgy pudding' being eaten on Mothering Sunday; Simnel cake is the food most often associated with it. It is the middle Sunday in Lent, when traditionally some relaxation of the Lenten fast was permitted.
    When my Mum was alive I always made a point of choosing a card that said "Happy Mothering Sunday" and not "Mother's Day". Fewer and fewer do.

  9. I've always understood that the origin of Mothering Sunday was the traditional giving leave to of young live-in servants to travel home to see their mothers. The Church calendar was just a convenient reference. The activity was no more religious than stirring the Christmas pudding ion 'stir up Sunday'' in Advent.

  10. BrE. I have seen pot mums (=potted chrysanthemums) in the U.K., usually on market stalls. And nearly always with a “grocer’s apostrophe (mum’s) than one indicating a contraction (‘mums).


The book!

View by topic



AmE = American English
BrE = British English
OED = Oxford English Dictionary (online)