Definition of chara
1 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
2 plural -s : any plant of the genus Chara
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Origin and Etymology of chara
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 ◆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 , 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.
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