Formality of Latin description

Gomez Luis Diego ldgomez at NS.OTS.AC.CR
Wed Nov 22 08:47:42 CST 1995

Latin descriptions have nothing to do with the quality of the taxonomist who
proposes a new name, rather it is a means to make that description
universal in the sense that any serious botanists should know the basics to
read a description regardless of her/his native tongue.

However, I have seen in my 35 years of systematics and taxonomy that fewer
persons are trained to do that. Most younger PhD do not even speak or read
any foreign language like German or French, least of all a dead language like
Latin. Maybe we should aim at offering a course of Basic Latin as a
prerequisite for a botanical major?

As to peer reviewed descriptions I volunteer two anecdotes. In 1992 two
of us sent a ms. to one of the most prestigious botanical periodicals in the
US. The taxon described, in classical Latin (not the Tarzanesque variety
found in ready made description examples) and read as this| genus species
nobis (nobis meaning of ours, the two authors) The editor sent a note
asking who the third author, Mr. Nobis was, since the person was not included
in the title.
Another one. A very well known and respected ecologist working in South
America sent a paper to a US societal peridical. It had to do with swamp
forests and he referred to an association as Rhizophoretum. The editor sent
the peer review saying Rhizophoretum seem to be an invalid genus as no
reference to it can be found...

Less anecdotal is the aspect of biological vs. taxonomical species. It may
be all right to have Dr. XX who is the expert on turkish species of Allium
suggest to an incumbet author of a new species that it may be best to have
it merged with species aa, or propose it as a variety of species hh, because
the genus within that geographical area is known taxonomically and
biologically (e.g. DNA). But such knowledge is not always the case. What if
Dr. XX is what we call a lumper? The judgement of the author proposing
something new will be culled by that arbiter.

The publication of a new taxon in accordance to the Intl. Code of Bot.
Nomencl. should be done in a publication of wide distribution and all
botanists know that so the potential problem of publishing in the Boggsville
Clarion Sunday Supplement is really not one of importance.

If we were to modernize botany and publish not in Latin but in any of the
current languages, the one of the majority should be chosen as the official
lingua franca of descriptors. I guess that wiould be chinese. Mandarin,
perhaps? What is wrong with a little effort to learn a bit of Latin? Do not
we all learn without complaint the jargon of internet?

Registration of new taxa should be the responibility of the compilers of
indices, e.g. Index Kewensis, secondly of editors of periodicals who should
make certain their publication is covered and included and in third place
of the authors who could (and maybe should) send a reprint to the indexers.

Let us not place any more obstacles in front of those who already
represent an endangered species in this world of molecular fingerprinting.

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