Ferraria/Spelling rules

Jim McKenney
Wed, 10 Dec 2008 16:41:20 PST
Here is my take on the names Mary Sue mentioned.

Densepunctatula is an example of the problem caused by old time botanists
who did not always make careful distinctions between parts of speech. In the
past authors of names often simply strung out two or more nouns (typically
one of the genitive) or other parts of speech to make a compound word. In
this particular case, the intention was probably to combine the Latin word
(an adverb) “dense” with punctatula to indicate thickly speckled or
something like that (assuming that a speckle is a little spot). Had the word
been published as dense-punctatula, I think it would have met the
requirements of the code. Some of you perhaps know or grow the fern
Thelypteris decursive-pinnata. The name is sometimes incorrectly written
decursivepinnata, without the hyphen. If you want to write it without the
hyphen, it should be decursivipinnata. 

Modern attempts to standardize nomenclature have rejected most if not all of
these compound words formed by the “string them together” method  and
converted them into compound words formed with the typical connective vowel
i for compounds of Latin words (and if you follow the text-book Latin
pronunciations as I do, keep in mind that this i is a short i). In Greek
words the connective vowel is a short o. In both Latin and Greek these
connective vowels are so-called weak vowels and thus frequently change into
a different vowel if they end up next to a strong vowel. The practical
consequence of this is that you will see words which are obviously compound
words, and in which you can recognize the component parts, but nevertheless
the connective vowel is not short i or short o.  

Another practice which began to be common about forty years ago is to base
family names on the oblique stem of words and not the nominative stem. Thus
the genus Melastoma in older works is placed in the family Melastomaceae,
but in modern works the name of the family is built from the oblique stem
and is spelled Melastomatacese. The iris family provides another example:
the genitive of iris is iridis, and the family name is built on that as

Once you understand this, you might notice other seeming anomalies – and
perhaps be able to figure them out for yourself. For instance, Aloe is
properly a three syllable word and some of us still write it as Aloë. The
letter combination  oe in Latin is a diphthong, so without the dieresis you
would expect the family name to be spelled Alaceae. But the stem is alo- and
the family name is thus Aloaceae. 

The spelling variations in Dutch names reflect the surprising fact that
Dutch, as I understand it, underwent a big spelling standardization as
recently as the 1940s. This reform resulted in such old spellings as –ij
being written in modern Dutch as y. In the case cited by Mary Sue, the
author of the name in question used the old-time spelling and someone
attempted to correct it to the modern Dutch spelling. I don’t know what the
code says about that, but it should be easy to find out. 

Similar problems arise when names are transliterated from the Cyrillic
alphabet to the Roman alphabet. I suspect that is why generations of western
gardeners wrote Allium christophii when they should have been writing A.

A related problem occurs with names from those languages which do not voice
final consonants. For instance, many Russian names end in the patronymic –ov
(as in, for instance, Corydalis popovii). When such names are spoken in
Russian, the final v is pronounced as an f. For me, this poses a bit of a
conundrum with respect to the pronunciation of these names as botanical
names: in the botanical specific epithet popovii that v is not in word-final
position. Should it be pronounced as a v or as an f? I can’t wait to try
this out on a native speaker of Russian.   

Hannon’s comments on the way a final r is treated reflect the peculiar
nature of the sounds represented in different languages by the symbol r.
Some of those sounds are true consonantal sounds (and thus get the ii
ending) and some are not (and thus get the i ending). It’s been a while
since I’ve seen the code (and I have yet to see the current one) and I don’t
know if this is spelled out in the code. When I have some free time I’ll try
to check it out. 

With respect to the Tropaeolum name, a quick look at ipni suggests that
Tropaeolum tricolorum is not a validly published name and Tropaeolum
tricolor is. I can’t help but wonder if someone “corrected” tricolor to
tricolorum to match the ending of the genus. Note that the word tricolor is
an adjective whose nominative singular forms are the same for all three
genders. (I think I might have described it as a noun in an earlier post on
this topic – sorry if I did).  

Less skilled editors often “correct” certain names: Sedum cauticola (which
is correct) to  Sedum cauticolum (which is not),  Platycodon grandiflorus
(which is correct)  to Platycodon grandiflorum (which is not). 

There are a lot of ways things can go wrong; I’ve tried most of them myself!

I spent the day out in the garden planting bulbs – I’ve still got more to
go. It was a perfect day for garden work – mild, temps in the 50s F,
overcast and misty, a few rain drops. To those of you to whom I have
promised bulbs and seeds, don’t give up! Once I get my grubby, muddy garden
clothes on, I don’t leave the garden (indeed, I’m barely allowed into the
house in that state). The big freeze up, which old time gardeners in this
area placed at December 5, has not yet occurred this year. So I’m on
borrowed time, and pushing hard to beat that deadline.

For me, there are few pleasures in gardening as sublime as the sense of
expectation which sets in and replaces the anxiety surrounding the annual
autumnal planting. I’m almost there.  

Sorry to go on so much: it helps to unwind after a very busy, tiring day. 

Jim McKenney
Montgomery County, Maryland, USA, 39.03871º North, 77.09829º West, USDA zone
7, where Iris unguicularis is blooming freely now: what a treat!
My Virtual Maryland Garden
Webmaster Potomac Valley Chapter, NARGS 
Editor PVC Bulletin 
Webmaster Potomac Lily Society

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