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a plant with small blue, pink, or white sweet-smelling flowers that grow close together on the stem

Origin and usage

The word hyacinth entered the English language in the mid 16th century. Originally used to refer to precious or semi-precious stones, by the end of the century it was being used to refer to the plant we know today. The word’s origin was Greek.


The fragrant spring-flowering hyacinth has a tragic myth behind it. The Greek god Apollo loved a beautiful Spartan youth called Hyacinthus, but accidentally killed him with a discus. The grief-stricken god caused a flower to grow in the place where Hyacinthus’s blood was spilled and, according to the Roman poet Ovid, wrote the words ‘Ai, Ai’, meaning ‘alas’, across its petals. Although it seems that the flower identified in the myth is not the hyacinth we know today but some other deep blue flower, the association with the story has remained.


“And the hyacinth purple, and white, and blue, Which flung from its bells a sweet peal anew
Of music so delicate, soft, and intense, It was felt like an odour within the sense.”
(Percy Bysshe Shelley)

Related words

crocus, daffodil, hyacinth, narcissus

View the full definition in the Macmillan Dictionary.

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Macmillan Dictionary

Macmillan Dictionary

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