affinity, cf and so on

John McNeill rom!john at ZOO.TORONTO.EDU
Tue Nov 9 13:11:49 CST 1993

Jan Wieringa writes:

> When some people are identifying plants or animals and have doubt about
> correctness of their identification, they put "aff." or "cf." before the
> Some people say that the cf. means they just don't know if the name is
> while aff. means that the specimen seems most closely related to the
> name, but that it certainly is not that species (in most cases they mean
> might represents a new species). Other people however think it works
> the other way round (so cf. would mean certainly not this species). Can
> tell me which option is the correct one, and has anybody published a
> of con forma or affinis in the taxonomic context?

Jan Wieringa asks about the use in identifications of plants or animals of
"aff." or "cf." before a species name applied to the specimen.

"aff." is, of course, abbreviated from the adjective "affinis", which W.T.
Stearn (Botanical Latin) translates as "akin to, bordering" and also as
"neighbouring, allied to".

"cf." is abbreviated from "confer", the imperative of the irregular verb
"confero -ferre", "to compare" or "to bring together".  In the context
involved, "cf." is always the instruction "compare".

How one chooses to interpret how systematic biologists use these
abbreviations is less clear, except that in both cases, there is doubt in
the user's mind as to the identification of the specimen with the name
being applied.  All I think we can say is that there is some basis for the
usage that Jan Wieringa cites.  I would say that "aff." implies an evident
distinction from the species as the identifier knows it - but whether it
should be the basis of a new species or a describable variant (or even that
further study would show it to be part of the overall variation of the
species) is not determinable.  On the other hand "cf." is even less
informative, merely telling the recipient of the information that to
establish precise identification he/she should compare the specimen with
the named species - the specimen is either of that species or has some
affinity with it!

I am not aware of any attempt to define the usage of these Latin
abbreviations other than by direct translation, as above, but there may be
some. If so, I suspect that they will reflect individual usage and,
perhaps, the alternative positions that Jan Wieringa discusses.

John McNeill                   Tel. 416-586-5639
Royal Ontario Museum           Fax  416-586-8044
100 Queen's Park               e-mail rom!john at
Ontario, M5S 2C6

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