FW: Survey of common tree names

John W. McCain johnmc at PUCCINI.CRL.UMN.EDU
Tue Jul 4 13:21:47 CDT 1995

On Fri, 02 Jun 1995 07:20:00 -0700 (PDT),
Joseph Laferriere  <joseph at BIO2.COM> wrote:

>I concur. The common name "pigweed" is applied to Amaranthus in some parts
>of the US, Chenopodium in others, Portulaca in others. I frequently use this
>example in class to illustrate the importance of using scientific names.

>Subject: Re: Survey of common tree names
>Date: Friday 02 June 1995 8:44AM
>One thing you need to keep in mind is the nomenclatural baggage we all
>carry with us.  If we grew up in one part of the country, but now live
>elsewhere, the names we provide may not be the same as those a local
>native would provide.

As I was growing up, everyone in my part of eastern Indiana used the term
pigweed for Abutilon theophrasti. When I went to Purdue, a professor there
told me in no uncertain terms that no one ever used that common name for
that plant; s/he could not imagine how I could be so wrong ... Since then,
I have told my students that there are no hard rules about common names;
you can _never_ say that any common name is wrong per se.

I also teach poisonous plants and weed control; yes, I do appreciate some
circumstances for standardization of common names [a botany course up here
teaches the name poison hemlock for what I call water hemlock - the
confusion could cause a doctor to give the wrong treatment]. But I hope as
a student of language that unusual or local folk names will be kept at
least in the literature. So, good luck on your survey.

John W. McCain
University of Minnesota - Saint Paul

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