Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: wisteria; wistaria.

wisteria; wistaria. Americans are often surprised to learn that the flowery vine was named “wistaria” (after Caspar Wistar, an anatomist), not “wisteria.” A prominent etymologist calls the change in spelling “apparently a misprint” in 1819. Robert K. Barnhart, Dictionary of Etymology 885 (1995). The original does still show up in American print sources, but usually in proper nouns — e.g.: “Last month they celebrated the annual Wistaria Festival in honor of a sprawling 114-year-old vine that is recognized as one of the world’s largest blossoming plants.” Joe Mozingo, “Fire Looms over Sierra Madre,” L.A. Times, 29 Apr. 2008, at B3. Even when California papers are reporting on the Wistaria Festival, though, they spell the plant name “wisteria.” The Oxford English Dictionary favors “wistaria,” but American dictionaries list it as a variant spelling. It is so uncommon in American English that some writers feel compelled to comment on it — e.g.: “[W.D.] Rose promised that the drink would ‘conjure up visions . . . of wistaria [sic] blooming in old patios, of sights and smells associated only with the Vieux Carre.'” Amanda Hesser, “1935: Ramos Gin Fizz,” N.Y. Times, 15 June 2008, at MM67 (ellipsis and “[sic]” notation are in the original). Language-Change Index — “wisteria” in American English: Stage 5. For information about the Language-Change Index click here. Quotation of the Day: “Verbal miasma, when it deliberately obscures the truth, is an offense to reason.” “The Euphemism: Telling It Like It Isn’t,” Time (as quoted in Language Awareness 59, 61 (Paul Eschholz et al. eds., 2d ed. 1978)).
Scroll to Top