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Phenology

Pronounced /fɪˈnɒlədʒi/Help with pronunciation

Recording the dates each year when plants flowered or birds nested was a popular hobby in Victorian times. It continued the tradition of close observation of natural phenomena that had been pioneered by eighteenth century British naturalists such as Gilbert White at Selborne in Hampshire.

But he never knew the word phenology that describes his methodical recording, as it was not invented until almost a century after his death; it’s based on phenomenon plus –logy, the suffix denoting the study of some subject. Someone who makes such observations is a phenologist. Although the vogue for recording died out among amateurs at the end of the nineteenth century, scientists continued to use the word for the recording of such seasonal happenings, especially in areas like crop research.

Both the word and the concept have recently gained new popularity and significance because global warming is causing plants to come into flower and crops to ripen earlier than before. The United Kingdom Phenological Survey was organised for the first time in 1999 by the Institute of Terrestrial Ecology in Cambridge. The survey showed that the start of the growing season is now 18 or 19 days earlier than it was in Victorian times.

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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
Page created 26 Feb. 2000

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The English language is forever changing. New words appear; old ones fall out of use or alter their meanings. World Wide Words tries to record at least a part of this shifting wordscape by featuring new words, word histories, words in the news, and the curiosities of native English speech.

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This page URL: http://www.worldwidewords.org/weirdwords/ww-phe1.htm
Last modified: 26 February 2000.