common name of the "Dianthus Caryophyllus" or "pink," a herbaceous perennial flowering plant native to southern Europe but widely cultivated from ancient times for its fragrance and beauty and abundant in Normandy, 1530s, of uncertain origin. The early forms are confused; perhaps (on evidence of early spellings) it is a corruption of coronation, from the flower's being used in chaplets or from the toothed crown-like look of the petals.
Or it might be called for its pinkness and derive from Middle French carnation "person's color or complexion" (15c.), which probably is from Italian dialectal carnagione "flesh color," from Late Latin carnationem (nominative carnatio) "fleshiness," from Latin caro "flesh" (originally "a piece of flesh," from PIE root *sker- (1) "to cut"). OED points out that not all the flowers are this color.
This carnation had been borrowed separately into English as "color of human flesh" (1530s) and as an adjective meaning "flesh-colored" (1560s; the earliest use of the word in English was to mean "the incarnation of Christ," mid-14c.). It also was a term in painting for "representation of the flesh, nude or undraped parts of a figure" (1704).
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