Spelling of personal names in botanical nomenclature; was RE: Haemanthus and Scadoxus Culture

Jim McKenney jimmckenney@jimmckenney.com
Mon, 28 Jun 2010 10:19:37 PDT

Years ago on this list, a sharp eyed reader noticed that someone had  used
the “an” form of the indefinite article before a genus name which began with
H. Sharp-eyed reader commented something on the order of “now I know how you
pronounce the name: with a silent H. “

This points to one probable source of the lack of clarity in the code with
respect to the treatment of names. There are at least two schools of thought
when it comes to the answer to the question “what does “name” mean in this
context?”. Does “name” in this context refer to  the spoken form of the name
or to the written form of the name? 

Chris Whitehouse correctly pointed out that the name Katharine is ultimately
derived from Greek. But in the English language, what seems to be the same
name has dropped two of the original four  syllables, has given new sounds
to the retained vowels, and has introduced a sound for the th which did not
exist in Greek. Furthermore (and this aspect is particularly important for
purposes of plant nomenclature) the spoken form of the name as spoken in
English ends in a consonant sound (an “n” sound); the written form ends in a
written but silent (in English) vowel. 

All of this would be irrelevant except for one thing. One of the
peculiarities of the rules (at least as I read them) is that the rules seem
to be relying on  principles of euphony  traditional in the study of the
classical languages, but these rules are applied to the written word with no
regard for the sounds the written characters represent. The word euphony
implies sound: the sound comes first, the spelling follows. Spelling changes
to reflect euphonic sensibilities.

But in the world of scientific nomenclature, almost every one has lost touch
with the SOUNDS of classical Latin and Greek. But that has not stopped them
from attempting to apply rules of euphony specific to Latin and Greek (and
based on those sounds)  to the written form of scientific terms, including
sometimes botanical names. The result can be comically anorthographic, is
generally offensive to the trained ear and sometimes displays an ignorance
of the sense of the very rules of euphony evoked to produce the spellings in

Enough of this rant! But Chris did mention one other thing which tempts me
to open another can of worms: Chris alluded to the fact that for purposes of
plant nomenclature some names are declined and some are not. We could have a
lot of fun with that one, too: any one else game? 

Jim McKenney
Montgomery County, Maryland, USA, 39.03871º North, 77.09829º West, USDA zone
7, where if we continue this topic I'll get Crépin and Max Wichrua involved.

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