naming of plants

Jane McGary
Sat, 09 Jan 2016 12:04:29 PST
All right, this is getting off topic, but I couldn't resist answering a 
few questions that have come up and are pertinent to my profession as an 
editor (mostly of scholarly books).

Whether to capitalize words is not "grammar," it is "style," and style 
in this sense is determined by the manual of style preferred by a 
discipline, a publisher, or (as with German) the publication history of 
a language or variety of a language (e.g., American vs. British 
English). Editors have to know the capitalization rules of numerous 
languages and disciplines, or at least know where to look them up in the 
Chicago Manual, in order to style bibliographies. Bob Nold is correct, 
according to the preference of most publishers, in his description of 
capitalization of plant names used as common names, e.g. "scillas."

Bob also wrote, "There are exceptions to every rule. Rosa Parks, Iris 
Murdoch, Primula Rollo (I had to look that one up)." However, editors 
detest bell hooks, an author who appears to indulge in a form of 
exhibitionism by banning the capitals.

Before someone else brings it up, I'll also say that there are certain 
common plant names that are often pluralized in the form that would be 
used for the taxonomic name, e.g. gladiolus, gladioli. The modern 
tendency in English-language text is to use the standard English plural 
-(e)s instead (gladioluses). We also form possessives regularly with 's 
instead of using the apostrophe alone if the noun ends in s (e.g., 
Catullus's elegies), except when the final syllable both begins and ends 
in s (Jesus' words). And you don't have to remember those rules about 
plurals with apostrophes that you learned in school, because we don't do 
that any more: the 1980s (not 1980's), the Harrisons (not Harrison's). 
American styles are spreading into British usage these days; I edit 
books in both for Oxford UP, and am relieved at the gradual merger of rules.

And yes, I should have italicized a number of examples in this note, but 
it is too tedious to do it in an email (or e-mail).

Jane McGary
Portland, Oregon, USA

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