capitalized : a genus (the type of the family Characeae) of plants common in freshwater lakes of limestone districts and usually having the central internodal cells of the stem, often encrusted with calcareous deposits, sheathed by smaller cells see nitella
plural -s : any plant of the genus Chara

Word History


borrowed from New Latin, altered, probably after Latin chara, plant of unknown identity, from French or Franco-Provençal charapot, charrapot or charagne, charaigne, names for Chara vulgaris or a similar alga, of unknown origin

Note: Chara is a genus initiated by Linnaeus (Species plantarum, 1753, p. 1156) on the basis of a pre-Linnaean name introduced by the French botanist Sébastien Vaillant ("Caracteres de quatorze genres de plantes," in Mémoires de l'Académie Royale des Sciences for 1719, p. 17-20). Vaillant in turn took the name from the Historia generalis plantarum (Lyon, 1586) of the French botanist and classicist Jacques Daléchamps ("Chara, selon l'Autheur de l'Histoire des Plantes de Lion, est le nom que les Lionnois donnent à la premiere espece de ce genre" – "Chara, according to the author of the Histoire des Plantes of Lyon, is the name given by the Lyonnais to the first species of this genus"). Daléchamps brings up the plant in a discussion of horsetails (p. 1070): "Est & quintum genus, minimum, aquis cœnosis innatans, vel sub iis occultum semper, breuissimis & asperis foliis, ac caulibus, lutosum virus olentibus. Lugdunenses vocant chara quasi Cheredranon, quo nomine Equisetum vocari insupposititiis nomenclaturis Dioscoridis legimus, ea quæ lances escarias, & reliquam eiusmodi supellectilem abstergunt … " ("There is a fifth kind, very small, floating on dirty water, or rather always hidden in it, with very short and rough leaves and stems, giving off a muddy smell. The Lyonnais call it chara, that is to say Cheredranon—a name for the horsetail that we find in Dioscorides' made-up nomenclature—with which they scour dishes and other utensils of that sort … "). Daléchamps appears to have had in mind any of several words recorded in late 18th- and 19th-century French botanical references as char(r)apot, charapat, charagne, charaigne, etc. (as, for example, "charaigne ou charapot," Nicolas Jolyclerc, Phytologie universelle, ou histoire naturelle et méthodique des plantes, tome 2, Paris, An VII [1799], p. 164). Localization of these words within France is unclear, as they seem to have fallen through French lexicographical nets. Daléchamps may have arbitrarily shortened the word, or may have chanced upon chara, a kind of root found in Epirus but not otherwise identified (a word occurring only once in the Classical Latin corpus, in Julius Caesar's De bello civili 3.48), and used this as the basis for his name.

Love words?

You must — there are over 200,000 words in our free online dictionary, but you are looking for one that’s only in the Merriam-Webster Unabridged Dictionary.

Start your free trial today and get unlimited access to America's largest dictionary, with:

  • More than 250,000 words that aren't in our free dictionary
  • Expanded definitions, etymologies, and usage notes
  • Advanced search features
  • Ad free!

Dictionary Entries Near chara

Cite this Entry

“Chara.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/chara. Accessed 25 Jun. 2024.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!