The flower forget-me-not is named "Vergissmeinnicht" in German and "Незабудка" in Russian. The meaning is the same in all three languages. Is this a coincidence?

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    Calque or loan translation?
    – Mitch
    Oct 3, 2011 at 14:31
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    Hello Sebastian, sorry, but I voted to close your question. I'd usually close questions like this one as General Reference, but since it's not there, I chose NARQ. The reason is that you can simply look this up in dictionaries, therefore making the question too basic and answerable with a simple link.
    – Alenanno
    Oct 3, 2011 at 14:59
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    Actually, in the case of the word for "tea" and how it spread, this sort of question is of academic...er...scholarly interest. wals.info/chapter/138 Oct 3, 2011 at 15:17
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    I think this is a reasonable question to not be closed. It is a 'why' question. Looking it up just confirms what the OP knows, that the same kind of thing appears literally in very different languages.
    – Mitch
    Oct 3, 2011 at 16:02
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    @Mitch Personally, I think that the reason is clear enough by looking up the dictionaries: it's a calque. The answer below proves this.
    – Alenanno
    Oct 3, 2011 at 16:05

3 Answers 3


I tried to come up with a motivation for why this might be a loan word instead of something that people would come up with a suitable native word for. It's tempting to just say, "well that is the way it is, end of story" Here are my ideas

1 It's easy to translate/calque as a phrase. There isn't anything awkward about it and in English it forms a complete sentence. Compare this to Chinese loans to English-- they are few and become unrecognizable.

2 Plants have limited ranges, so who ever lives near that plant will likely name it first and the name would spread with the knowledge that the plant exists. As it turns out for this plant, it has a wide range, so it is possible that in some places the locals had already come up with a word for it. On the other hand, something like words banana and tea are likely to have traveled with the people who first named these plants. In the case of Tea, WALS has lots of data on how the name of that plant and the loanwords spread.

  • I think, both answers are useful, but I like this one more and will mark it as the accepted answer, as it suggests possible reasons, why the calque occured. Oct 8, 2011 at 13:48

As @Mitch pointed out in his comment, there is a phenomenon called calque or loan translation, where a word or a phrase is borrowed by word-per-word (or root-per-root) translation. According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, that's what happened here

from O.Fr. ne m'oubliez mye; in 15c. the flower was supposed to ensure that those wearing it should never be forgotten by their lovers. Similar loan-translations took the name into other languages, cf. Ger. Vergißmeinnicht, Swed. forgätmigej, Hungarian nefelejcs, Czech nezabudka.

  • Very interesting... the fact that in Czech the flower is actually called pomněnka, not nezabudka, which is its name in Russian. Oct 3, 2011 at 22:46
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    So in Czech it is called rememberka, and in Russian - nonforgetka :-)
    – Anixx
    Jan 22, 2012 at 9:16
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    adding it's the same in Chinese (勿忘我) Mar 13, 2018 at 5:12
  • Are pomněnka and nezabudka the same flower? There are two similar flowers, Myosotis called Vergissmeinnicht in German, and Omphalodes called Gedenkemein in German. The latter is a "rememberka", the former a "nonforgetka". Jun 21, 2018 at 12:50

Like many flowers, the Forget-me-not is named for its color. For unbelievable folk-etymologies, see http://symbolism.wikia.com/wiki/Forget-Me-Not

A Google image search indicates that the color of this flower ranges from light blue to red-violet. The most common Hebrew word for purple is SeGoL סָגוֹל. In second place, it is @aRGaMoN אַרגָמָן, probably borrowed from Akkadian argamannu.

In many Hebrew nouns, the aleph which had been at the end of the word (but had lost its ancient northern GHT-sound) moved to the beginning of the word under the influence of Aramaic which used aleph as a suffix for the definite article. So moving the aleph in @aRGaMoN אַרגָמָן back to its original location makes the German name for this flower an excellent phono-semantic match for that Hebrew color.

aRGa Ma Ni[GHT] VeRGissMeinNiCHT FoRGet Me NoT

The German name was translated to French ne m'oubliez pas. The English name may have been independently transliterated from Hebrew or translated from French or German. Compare Yiddish Fargesnitl. Wikipedia thinks the English name was calqued from French.

  • 1
    Are you able to add a more credible source for this? Jun 19, 2018 at 9:15
  • 5
    This is complete nonsense.
    – fdb
    Jun 19, 2018 at 11:58

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