Pronunciation of botanical names

Harry Dewey
Mon, 09 Dec 2002 06:33:59 PST
If we based our pronunciations on the words from which English words
have been derived, as Mr. Mulligan wanted you to do, just think how many
words that were imported into English from Latin, Greek, French, etc.,
etc., would have to be repronounced!  Few contemporary pronunciations
would survive.  Excuse me, should I be saying soor-VEEV?

My own basic rules are (1) never correct anyone else's Latin, and (2)
adopt instantly anyone else's [mis]pronunciation for the duration of
any conversation, as though any other pronunciation were inconceivable
(even though I may have just used a different one prior to being
corrected).  I don't object to ANYONE's pronunciation unless asked my
opinion of it.

If you are secure in your own person, acceding to someone else's
pronunciation will not ruin your life  -- or your reputation.  The late
Richard Farley, when director of the National Agricultural Library here
in Beltsville, was once confronted by a staff member who demanded a
promotion on the grounds that she had told all her friends she expected
one and would therefore be humiliated if denied it.  He reportedly
replied, in declining, "Humiliation is a self-imposed condition."  To
adopt someone else's pronunciation is an act of politeness that will not
diminish you in the slightest degree.  When in Rome do as the Romans do:
say ah-zuh-LAY-uh, NOT uh-ZAYL-yuh.

And above all, remember Knud Lunde's sage advice: "The urge to correct
[breaks] communication."  

Live and let live.  

Yet, if someone asks me tomorrow if I grow ka-MELL-yuz, I will certain
respond "Yes, indeed, ka-MELL-yuz are a mainstay of my garden."  Live
and let live.

So, Mark, quit worrying about how to pronounce genera based on Chinese,
Russian, or whatnot, and just say them the way you want, or the way your
conversational partner is pronouncing them.  If you want guidance, check
them out in a good unabridged English dictionary.  ALL Latin genera are
automatically English words, spellable with a capital OR lower-case
initial letter, always correctly pluralizable with an -s or -es ending,
and always pluralized with a lower-case initial letter.  Every
"unabridged" English-language dictionary that omits even a single genus
-- plant or animal -- name is automatically an abridged dictionary.
Harry Dewey  (lifetime email address)
4605 Brandon Lane, Beltsville, Maryland USA 20705-2604
Exit I-95 to MD212 east; turn right on Cedar & left on Brandon
301-937-1446                         Hardiness Zone 7a
Founder, Alpine-L, the Electronic Rock Garden Society
(the independent club that won the 2002 NARGS Award of Merit)

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