Everyday Semiotics

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Now that's a rose of a different color

For our two-month anniversary I determined to give my darling a bouquet of roses, which possessed me to look into the supposed meanings of their different colors, which in turn possessed me to wonder about how these different colors (and other qualities) came to be imbued with these meanings.

I settled on a mix of red and white roses, because the Internet told me they symbolized unity. Severally, red roses of course mean "I love you," and also stand for respect and courage, while white roses can mean "You’re heavenly," or stand for reverence and humility, innocence and purity, "I’m worthy of you," and even secrecy and silence.

Rosebuds symbolize beauty, youth and a heart innocent of love or: “You are young and beautiful.” Red rosebuds mean “pure and lovely” and white rosebuds signify girlhood or “too young to love.” The moss rosebud stands for confessions of love.
A single rose stands for simplicity. In full bloom, it means “I love you” or “I love you still,” and a bouquet of roses in full bloom signifies gratitude.
Pink roses in general symbolize grace and gentility. For more subtle shades of meaning, choose deep pink to stand for gratitude and appreciation. Light pink conveys admiration and sympathy.
Yellow roses usually stand for joy and gladness, but can also say “try to care.”
Red and yellow blends stand for jovial and happy feelings.
Coral or orange roses denote enthusiasm and desire.
A deep burgundy rose means “unconscious beauty.”
Pale colors convey sociability and friendship.
Hybrid tea roses mean “I’ll remember you always” and sweetheart roses symbolize just what their name implies.
Two roses taped or wired together to form a single stem signal an engagement or coming marriage.
A full blown rose placed over two buds forms a combination that signifies secrecy.
Withered white roses have two meanings: fleeting beauty and “you made no impression.”
A crown made of roses signifies reward or virtue.
Rose leaves are a symbol of hope.
Dark Pink: Appreciation, Gratitude, Thank You
Light Pink: Admiration, Sympathy, Gentleness, Grace, Gladness, Joy, Sweetness
Yellow: Joy, Gladness, Friendship, Delight, Promise of a new beginning, Welcome Back, Remember Me, and Jealousy, "I care"
Yellow with Red Tip: Friendship, Falling in Love
Orange: Desire, Enthusiasm
Red and White: Given together, these signify unity
Red and Yellow: Jovial and Happy Feelings
Peach: Appreciation, Closing of the deal, Let's get together, Sincerity, Gratitude
Pale Peach; Modesty
Coral: Desire
Lavender: Love at first sight, Enchantment
Orange: Enthusiasm, Desire, Fascination
Black*: Death, Farewell
Blue*: The unattainable or impossible
Single in any color: Simplicity, Gratitude
Red Rosebud: Symbolic of purity and loveliness
White Rosebud: Symbolic of girlhood
Thornless Rose: "Love at first sight"
* These roses do not actually exist. [Not so. One was gengeneered in 2004. -- ed.]

from http://www.hugkiss.com/flowermean.shtml and http://www.rkdn.org/roses/colors.asp
The two sites agree on the meanings of the most standard hues (one site claims these meanings have existed "since the dawn of time"); and the concept of giving your love a rose as a symbolic act is more or less universal; but how did this all come to pass?

Perhaps it was initially a bit of that usual suspect, orientalism. Like noodles, roses entered the European tradition by way of China, romanticized as wonders of the East. And in the century before that, King Charles II brought the "language of flowers" to Sweden from Persia. But there existed a symbology and mythology of roses in ancient Greek and other early cultures. The first rose is thought to have been a white one whose color was transformed by one thing or another: for instance, stained by blood or blushing from a kiss. Hence, the white rose stands for purity.

But in fact the white rose stands for a lot of things. It's a regular semantic chain unto itself. From innocence and purity to secrecy (though the sub rosa rose placed on Roman doorsteps wasn't necessarily white) to friendship and reverence to humility, its sanctioned uses are to announce a new love, decorate a wedding or decorate a coffin. (Coincidentally -- or not -- one lays a wild rose on a newsired vampire's grave to prevent him from rising.) This ambiguity, and the proliferation of meanings for all the other colors, makes me wonder if there was a sort of early Hallmarkification of the flower, as its cultivation in many colors became possible, and the titilating code of the Victorian language of flowers circulated.

Proto-Hallmarkicized or no, the act of giving roses is something that can convey almost any meaning. Their pigmentation has been thoroughly and ambiguously codified; and yet as semiotic loci they can nonetheless be constantly reinscribed with new meaning. In plain language, that means they needn't stand for exactly what the florist says they stand for; on the contrary, they stand for whatever they stand for in the context of the giving.

When I gave my darling a bouquet of red and white roses, she understood what it meant.

I'll leave you with a quote from our good friend Roland:

"To love does not exist in the infinitive (except by a metalinguistic artiface): the subject and the object come to the word even as it is uttered" (A Lover's Discourse, 145).

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At 6:28 PM, Blogger Lady Lampshade said...

This avid fan humbly requests a new post.


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