The Secrets in a Name

Words have power. When a word is based on a misunderstanding, the unconscious assumptions that follow can lead to devastating cultural biases. It turns out that describing Nature, naming a thing, is a wonderful yet perilous act. Once people have a name for something, their tendency is to think they understand it and once they think they understand it, they quit experiencing it fresh and new each time they encounter it. Should the name of itself be inaccurate it starts a chain of cultural and individual events that lead to outcomes that are not predictable in the initial act of naming.

Here is one example that will give much food for thought, based on the incorrect definition behind the word “semen” that leads to unconscious sexism. You can read this beautiful poem-meditation on the power of a word here:

Semen is Latin
for a dormant, fertilized,
plant ovum-
a seed.
Men’s ejaculate
is chemically more akin
to plant pollen.
See,
it is really
more accurate
to call it
mammal pollen.

To call it semen
is to thrust
an insanity
deep inside our culture:
that men plow women
and plant their seed
when, in fact,
what they are doing
is pollinating
flowers.

Adapted from The Secret Teachings of Plants, by Stephen Harrod Buhner (Inner Traditions, 2004). COpyright (c) 2004 by Stephen Harrod Buhner. Reprinted by permission of Inner Traditions.
Adapted from The Secret Teachings of Plants, by Stephen Harrod Buhner (Inner Traditions, 2004).

8 comments

LMj Sunshine

Interesting, thank you.

LMj Sunshine

Interesting, thank you.

LMj Sunshine

Interesting, thank you.

LMj Sunshine

Interesting, thank you.

LMj Sunshine

Interesting, thank you.

Patricia H.
Patricia H.3 years ago

interesting

Robert O.
Robert O.3 years ago

Thanks Annie.

Margaret Cadogan
Past Member 6 years ago

Interesting analogy--never quite thought about semen and pollen in that way before.