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Two Flowers to Describe Quiet, Shy People

FILE - Workers check African violet plants at Hotkamp Greenhouse in Nashville, Tenn. on July 18,2007. (AP Photo/John Russell)
FILE - Workers check African violet plants at Hotkamp Greenhouse in Nashville, Tenn. on July 18,2007. (AP Photo/John Russell)
Two Flowers to Describe Quiet, Shy People
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And now, Words and Their Stories, from VOA Learning English.

Flowers add so much to our world. They feed the bees and other pollinators. They are beautiful. Some smell so good that they are used in perfume, lotion and other body products.

Many parents name their daughters after flowers. Popular ones are Daisy, Rose, Lily, Jasmine, Heather, Holly and Violet.

On today’s program we are going to talk about that last one – Violet.

The name Violet is found in an English expression. A shrinking violet describes someone who is very shy.

Oh, my shrinking violet
I left my basket of impatience at your door
I brought my tulips for your two lips
But the bulb don't burn anymore

Shrinking violets are not bold. They are afraid to speak their minds. When faced with a difficult situation, a shrinking violet seems to get smaller. They shrink away from the problem.

Another adjective to describe a shrinking violet is modest. They do not like to be the center of attention.

However, we often use this expression to describe people who are the opposite of modest, shy and fearful. And we often say it a special way. We say that someone is “no shrinking violet” instead of saying “not a shrinking violet.”

Let me give an example.

My friend Olga loves to perform. She is a great singer. And she’s no shrinking violet! If there is a party, you don’t need to ask her twice to sing for a crowd. Just give her a microphone and an audience and she is ready to perform! Now that I think of it, she doesn’t even need a microphone … or an audience.

She’s also no shrinking violet when it comes to sharing her thoughts. You always know where you stand with Olga. To know where you stand with someone means you know how they feel about things – and how they feel about you. They share their thoughts and feelings freely.

Now, let’s talk about another flower – the wallflower.

If you look up “wallflower” in the dictionary, you might get confused. Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary says wallflowers are hardy herbs often grown for their showy, sweet-smelling flowers. They are even able to grow in extremely small cracks in walls. That is where they get their name – wallflower.

In nature, wallflowers may be “showy” – or have a very noticeable appearance. But strangely, people who are described as wallflowers are not showy. In fact, a person who is a wallflower is the opposite!

Like shrinking violets, these people are also quiet and shy. At a party, a wallflower can be found standing against the wall, watching the fun from a distance. They stay apart from other people – waiting for someone to talk to them or ask them to dance.

And that’s the end of this Words and Their Stories. Practice using these two expressions: shrinking violet or wallflower.

Until next time … I’m Anna Matteo.

Wallflower, wallflower
Won't you dance with me
I'm sad and lonely, too
Wallflower, wallflower
Won't you dance with me
I'm falling in love with you

Anna Matteo wrote this story for VOA Learning English. Ashley Thompson was the editor. The song at the beginning is Bishop Allen singing “Shrinking Violet.” The song at the end is Diana Krall singing “Wallflower.”


Words in This Story

pollinator – n. something such as an insect that gives (a plant) pollen from another plant of the same kind so that seeds will be produced

perfume – n. a liquid substance that you put on your body in small amounts in order to smell pleasant

lotion – n. a thick liquid product used on the skin especially for healing or as a cosmetic

bold – adj. not afraid of danger or difficult situations

modest – adj. not too proud or confident about yourself or your abilities : not showing or feeling great or excessive pride

opposite – n. someone or something that is completely different from someone or something else

twice – adv. two times : on two occasions

hardy – adj. able to live through difficult conditions (such as a cold winter or a drought)

lonely – adj. sad from being apart from other people