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scarlet pimpernel

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noun
  1. See under pimpernel.
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Origin of scarlet pimpernel

First recorded in 1850–55

pimpernel

[pim-per-nel, -nl]
noun
  1. a plant belonging to the genus Anagallis, of the primrose family, especially A. arvensis (scarlet pimpernel), having scarlet or white flowers that close at the approach of bad weather.
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Origin of pimpernel

1400–50; late Middle English pympernele < Middle French pimprenelle, nasalized variant of Old French piprenelle < Late Latin *piperīnella, equivalent to piper pepper + -īn- -ine1 + -ella diminutive suffix; replacing Old English pipeneale < Late Latin pipīnella, syncopated variant of *piperīnella
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

British Dictionary definitions for scarlet pimpernel

pimpernel

noun
  1. any of several plants of the primulaceous genus Anagallis, such as the scarlet pimpernel, typically having small star-shaped flowers
  2. any of several similar and related plants, such as Lysimachia nemorum (yellow pimpernel)
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Word Origin

C15: from Old French pimpernelle, ultimately from Latin piper pepper; compare Old English pipeneale

scarlet pimpernel

noun
  1. a weedy primulaceous plant, Anagallis arvensis, of temperate regions, having small red, purple, or white star-shaped flowers that close in bad weatherAlso called: poor man's weatherglass, shepherd's weatherglass
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Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for scarlet pimpernel

pimpernel

n.

c.1400, from Old French pimprenelle, earlier piprenelle (12c.) and directly from Medieval Latin pipinella name of a medicinal plant. This is perhaps from *piperinus "pepper-like" (so called because its fruits resemble peppercorns), a derivative of Latin piper "pepper" (see pepper (n.)); or else it is a corruption of bipinnella, from bipennis "two-winged." The Scarlet Pimpernel was the code name of the hero in an adventure novel of that name published 1905.

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Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper