I still maintain that it's hypocritical to mine Greek and Latin for
new taxon names while at the same time disregarding the conventions of
the languages themselves.
On Sun, Nov 28, 2010 at 9:24 PM, Mickey Mortimer
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
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 t
he 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
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 langu
age 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