Goldenrods and Boston cops

… with a note on the pronunciation of botanical names.

The crucial moment came in a re-run showing of the Rizzoli & Isles episode “Love the Way You Lie” (S3 E12, first aired 12/4/12), when the Boston detective (Rizzoli, played by Angie Harmon) and medical examiner (Isles, played by Sasha Alexander) pondered the significance of the fact that they had identified some pollen as coming from Solidago macrophylla, with the species name macrophylla pronounced /ˌmækroˈfɪlǝ/ (with primary accent on the third syllable). I was startled by the pronunciation: it’s Greek ‘big leaf’, so surely it should have the accent on the second syllable (as in thermometer, Hippocrates, etc.), something on the order of  /mǝˈkrafǝlǝ/, and the writers had just gotten it wrong.

But no. The writers did their homework, and I was the one who was wrong.

The point is that though macrophylla is solidly Greek, it’s a term from botanical Latin — all taxonomic names are in principle some kind of Latin, whatever their source — and in Latin macrophylla gets accented on the penult, because the penult is heavy (thanks to that double ll). Well, these names get pronounced in a conventional anglicization of Latin — a pronunciation scheme that’s not a lot like what many people would have learned in Latin classes — but the placement of primary accent is relatively straightforward (on the penult if it’s heavy, otherwise on the antepenult).

/ˌmækroˈfɪlǝ/  still sounds weird to me, but there it is.

In any case, about the plant, from Wikipedia:


Solidago macrophylla, the largeleaf goldenrod or large-leaved goldenrod, is [a] North American species of herbaceous perennial plants of the sunflower family. It is native to eastern and central Canada (from Ontario to Newfoundland & Labrador) and the northeastern United States (New York and New England). Some of the populations in Québec and Labrador lie north of the Arctic Circle.

Solidago macrophylla is a perennial herb up to 105 cm (42 inches) tall, with a thick woody rhizome. Leaves can be up to 15 cm (6 inches) long. One plant can produce 110 or more small yellow flower heads, mostly on short side branches.

Goldenrods are appropriate for the season: they flower in late summer and early fall. S. macrophylla is a wildflower / weed, but there are also handsome garden cultivars. On this blog, from 9/11/15, “Golden yellow for the end of summer”, on goldenrods (and ragweed and “September Song”).

And then about the tv show. From Wikipedia:

Rizzoli & Isles is a TNT television series starring Angie Harmon as police detective Jane Rizzoli and Sasha Alexander as medical examiner Dr. Maura Isles. The one-hour drama is based on the series of Rizzoli & Isles novels by Tess Gerritsen. It premiered on July 12, 2010, and aired 105 episodes in seven seasons, concluding on September 5, 2016.

On the two principals:

Angela Michelle Harmon (born August 10, 1972) is an American actress and model. She was a professional model before gaining international fame for her roles in Baywatch Nights and as New York A.D.A. Abbie Carmichael on Law & Order. She also starred as Detective Jane Rizzoli on the TNT series Rizzoli & Isles. (Wikipedia link)

Suzana S. Drobnjaković Ponti (born May 17, 1973), known by her stage name Sasha Alexander, is a Serbian-American actress. She played Gretchen Witter on Dawson’s Creek and has acted in films including Yes Man (2008) and He’s Just Not That Into You (2009). Alexander played Caitlin Todd for the first two seasons of NCIS. From July 2010 through September 2016, Alexander starred as Maura Isles in the TNT series Rizzoli & Isles (Wikipedia link)

Cop shows and detective dramas very often feature a pair of central characters, who are depicted as contrastive in various ways (they’re male and female, black and white, of different nationalities, of different ages, of different temperaments, of different hair colors, whatever). Rizzoli and Isles contrast in temperament and hair color, but most prominently in social class: Rizzoli is working class Boston Italian, Isles upper middle class WASP.

Also notable in the ensemble cast are the luminous  Lorraine Bracco (Sopranos, Goodfellas) as Angela Rizzoli, Jane’s mother; and the adorable Jordan Bridges (of the Bridges acting family: Lloyd, Dorothy, Beau, Jeff, and Jordan) as Francesco “Frankie” Rizzoli Jr., Jane’s cop brother.

One publicity photo of Harmon as Rizzoli and Alexander as Isles (of many similar photos):


The characters are displaying the insignia of their occupations — the detective’s badge, the M.D.’s lab coat and ID badge — and in the show they are formidable professionals (Rizzoli is sharp and tough, Isles is deeply knowledgeable and brusque in her judgments), but in publicity shots they’re presented as hot babes: it’s all about hair (lots of it) and cleavage. They look like high-class hookers in Boston P.D. costumes.

Contrast this with a publicity photo for Jordan Bridges as Frankie Rizzoli:


His other publicity shots have him in uniform, all buttoned up in blue. I note that the shirtless Bridges is decidedly yummy; I’ll just leave this little gender presentation critique at that.

2 Responses to “Goldenrods and Boston cops”

  1. Robert Coren Says:

    it would never have occurred to me to accent macrophylla on the second syllable, since I analyze it (I’m pretty sure correctly) as macro “large” + phylla “leaf”; so I put primary stress on the third syllable and secondary stress on the first.

  2. Robert Coren Says:

    Let’s not overlook Bruce McGill as Vince Korsak — not yummy in the manner of Bridges, but handsome in his own way and a consummate performer. Not to mention the lamented Lee Thompson Young as Detective Barry Frost.

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