What is a ‘teasel’?

Reading time: Less than 1 minute

Increase your vocabulary and you’ll make your writing much more precise. That’s why I provide a word of the week. Today’s word: teasel…

I keep a Word document containing all the new and interesting words I encounter in my daily reading.

When I collected the word teasel from Maggie O’Farrell’s delightful memoir I am I am I am, it was more than two months ago and I can no longer remember the context of the word.

I did, however, save the sentence and here it is:

There is a single cloud near the horizon, a teasel of white.

I hadn’t encountered the word before but it turns out it refers to any of several herbs of the genus Dipsacus native to the Old World having flower heads surrounded by spiny bracts. (See photo at the top of this post.)

I can only guess, but I assume that O’Farrell was comparing the cloud (perhaps a thin and whispy cirrus one?) to the spiny plant?

Origin of the word dates back to before the 12th century. It comes from the Old English tæsel meaning “large thistle used in teasing cloth,” from the Germanic parent language taisilo  from root of Old English tæsan meaning “to pluck.”

You’d be correct to note the similarity to the word tease. It comes from the same root and this figurative definition  — meaning to vex, worry or annoy — dates back to 1610.