Narcissus albimarginatus

Jim McKenney
Fri, 07 Mar 2014 08:04:09 PST
Although I'm in agreement with Bob Nold about the specious nature of the belief that scientific names are actual classical Latin words, I'm puzzled about the conclusions he draws from this. In particular, I'm going to take aim at his seeming concept of New Latin. In evoking the concept of New Latin to justify such spellings as albomarginatus, Nold cites the spelling rules of New Latin as if there were such a thing, already codified and established. To be sure, there are several centuries of practice to consider when attempting to discern such rules, but the taxonomists of the last four centuries (and before) did not have a "rule book of New Latin orthography" to consult. They simply did what they thought would work: they wrote the rules, so to speak, as they went. And by and large that meant basing their practice  on their understanding of classical Latin and Greek precedents,  understanding which seems to have varied from country to country. 

And then there is this: current taxonomic practice is itself practice in the tradition of New Latin. If contemporary taxonomists decide that scientific names should now be spelled a certain way, how is that decision any different than the decision in past times to spell some words in ways not fully in agreement with classical Latin precedent for similarly constructed words? That the motivation for doing this among some contemporary taxonomists is to allow current usage to mirror classical usage is not the real issue: isn't the real issue is to standardize orthographic practice?

Jim McKenney
Montgomery County, Maryland, USA, USDA zone 7, still freezing. 


On Thursday, March 6, 2014 10:56 PM, penstemon <> wrote:

I was wondering why the species epithet bestowed on the pictured
plant is "albimarginatus" and not "albomarginatus," which is more usual.

This is because of the current (entirely specious) notion that scientific 
names are actual classical Latin words, and therefore should be spelled as 
such. (The spelling "albomarginatus" apparently derives from New Latin, in 
which case it is correct. It could be argued that spelling the name 
"albimarginatus" is incorrect, since New Latin created the spelling rules, 
not classical Latin.)
But the boat carrying the idea that scientific names are real Latin words 
sailed long ago anyway, when scientists began to name things after people 
whose names could never occur in Latin, new or old, names like Darwin.

Bob Nold
Denver, Colorado, USA 

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