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Re: Correct latin&greek - was RE: New iguanodonts in PLoS ONE

Mickey Mortimer <mickey_mortimer111@msn.com> wrote:

> I would indeed agree it's not a big deal.  It doesn't affect any area of 
> study, and language is so fluid that English is already full of numerous 
> words which break rules or have evolved from earlier forms which
>  were more directly derived.

Big difference.  Our modern vocabulary is the product of change and
evolution our time, via continuous usage over many centuries.  By
contrast, a genus or species name will be permanent.  _Confuciusornis_
will always be _Confuciusornis_, and will not morph into
_Confuciornis_, simply because the latter is the way we would prefer
to say it.   There is no fluidity with nomenclature: the names are set
in stone.

> As with the Latin and Greek examples, I agree it's ideal to form words 
> correctly, if only because it will help a few people remember more easily and 
> because the knowledge is valuable for its own sake.  Yet
> my reaction would probably be limited to a derisive "ha!", as opposed to 
> lamenting that the paper didn't get rejected for a spelling error from an 
> unrelated field.

I'm disconcerted by the idea that paleontology (including the naming
of new fossil taxa) should operate in a vacuum.  Sure, paleontologists
don't need to know the details of Latin and Greek language.  But
what's wrong with a little respect for our Greek and Latin forbears?
In today's world of the internet and email, how hard is it to consult
an expert in Greek or Latin grammar to ask how to spell a new genus or
species properly?

> I agree with the latter completely, and would say it's important for 
> linguists, archaeologists, etc. to know the details of Latin and Greek
> language.  I was simply arguing doing something out of respect for a 
> non-person is pointless.  We study paleontology because we're
> interested in expanding human knowledge, in learning more ourselves, etc., 
> not because we respect the historical European culture that gave
>  it to us, or because we respect the Mesozoic Era.  If someone were to argue 
> it's important to get Latin grammar right in names because of
> the inherent value in learning a bit about the language in the process, I'd 
> agree that's a worthy reason.

The problem with your approach is that it willfully promotes
ignorance.  The implication is that it's okay to dumb down Latin or
Greek grammar because (in your view) it really doesn't matter to
anyone anyway.  Using that rationale, schools should no longer bother
teaching the works of William Shakespeare or Homer (the poet, not the
Simpson) because in your view there is no objective reason to respect
the historical European cultures that gave us these works, unless one
intends to be an expert in English or ancient Greek literature.

Microbiologists have the right idea.  Every new genus or species of
microbe comes complete with an etymology that includes the original
Greek or Latin words, including the correct grammar.  (A pronunciation
of the new name must also be provided, something that would solve a
lot of problems if this rule was applied to all new dinosaur names.)