Pronunciation of botanical names

Jane McGary
Mon, 09 Dec 2002 11:24:03 PST
Harry Dewey's posting on this topic was very much along the lines of my own
thought on the subject, though I wouldn't call a pronunciation-corrector a
"terrorist and thug" -- just a boor who doesn't understand how language
really works. (Harry, do I get credit for moderating my rhetoric here, if
not on Alpine-L?)

However, I wanted to comment on Harry's statement,

> 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.  

In general, this is the rule we editors follow, but it gets more
complicated than that. The lower-case initial letter is used when the genus
name is accompanied by an article (Eng. 'a', 'the') or when it is
pluralized; the upper-case initial appears only when the genus name is
italicized and being used in the sense of a taxonomic entity. As for
pluralizing, we use the plural forms from the source language for certain
genera where this is a longstanding usage in English: gladiolus, gladioli;
cactus, cacti; narcissus, narcissi. There is a widely observed (though not
universal) rule in editing not to pluralize with -es and not to use the
possessive 's when a word ends in a syllable like -sus, -sos, -ses. Thus,
we would write "Marcus's face" but "Jesus' face", and I suppose "a cactus's
habitat" but "a narcissus' habitat".

In difficult situations, one can avoid making a decision about plurals by
writing "Gladiolus [italic] species" or "species of Gladiolus [italic]". (I
can't change fonts in the e-mail application I use, but I don't get viruses
in it, either.)

With best wishes for the holidays, and for quick recovery to the gardens of
our friends on the US East Coast!

Jane McGary

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