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



Tim Williams 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.

It's not like the fluidity of normal words means they're going to be 
corrected.  Changes in normal words are generally not planned either, and are 
simply the result of mistakes which are spread resulting in words getting less 
similar to their original form as time goes on.  If you're going to lament 
Confuciusornis being incorrectly formed in 1995, you should also be complaining 
about bridd being incorrectly changed to bird in the fifteenth century.  Or 
about the word ostrich, which is a flawed modification of the Old French 
ostruce.  The latter is superior in being more directly formed from the 
original Latin struthio, so would help people remember its genus name and 
respect our language's Old French and Latin heritage.  Even though there's no 
rule saying we can't reinstate bridd or ostruce, it's not gonna happen any 
sooner than we get Confuciornis.  So no, I don't see your big difference.  Why 
care about the small number of incorrect words that can't be changed more than 
the huge number of incorrect words that won't be changed?

> > 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 never said it should operate in a vacuum.  If a dinosaur paper compared an 
ankylosaur pelvic shield to a parma due to its rectangular shape, it would be 
right to complain that parmas are round and the author was thinking of a 
scutum.  As it would be right to complain if a paper referenced a Latin phrase 
and misspelled a word in it.  Not because we should respect the Romans, but 
because being factually wrong in an article is bad.  

> > 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.

I'd agree there's no objective reason to respect historical cultures, and 
actually do believe there are more relevant things we could be teaching 
children during the time now spent on archaic literature- probability, finance, 
economics, local laws, critical thinking skills, comparative religion, cultural 
differences in the modern world, etc..  I know I was never taught anything 
about those topics in high school, but had to read several Shakespearean 
plays.  But that's getting even further off track than we are already.

I'm not saying it's bad to learn Latin or Greek or that we should dumb them 
down when we teach them, though like Shakespeare or (just to show a lack of 
bias) phylogenetic nomenclature, it's not something most people benefit from 
and would be better left as part of optional college courses.  I even think 
learning Latin and Greek bases is quite useful, as it helps people spell words 
correctly and identify the meaning of new words.  But that's not the same as 
learning the language itself, and forming scientific names from Latin and Greek 
roots isn't the same as speaking those languages either.  And that's my main 
issue with the subject at hand.  We're not speaking Latin, we're just making 
names.  Names don't even have to be derived from a language anymore, they just 
have to be pronouncable and transcribable using a certain selection of 
letters.  Treating scientific names like real Latin words is a holdover from 
the past when scientists used Latin because it was a neutral language all 
scholars knew.  Nowadays, there are (rightfully) far more people/scholars who 
learn English as a second language than learn Latin.  Indeed, I'll bet Livezey 
and Zusi's (2007) Latin character list pissed more people off and hindered work 
more than it functioned to ease communication.  It's time to drop the 
historical baggage of viewing scientific nomenclature as creating new Latin or 
Greek words for people who know the languages, and start seeing it as creating 
names for organisms without any implicated grammatical or spelling rules.

Mickey Mortimer