Formality of Latin description

Joseph E. Laferriere josephl at CCIT.ARIZONA.EDU
Mon Nov 20 14:37:29 CST 1995

> On Wed, 8 Nov 1995, Joseph Laferriere wrote:
> > There has been some talk on Taxacom lately about the pros and cons of
> > Latin descriptions. There is one argument I have not seen addressed, i.e.
> > that requiring a Latin diagnosis, holotype, etc., forces the writer to be
> > more formal and careful in describing new species. Note that the rule has
> > been effect in botany only since 1935. Before that, a description could
> > be in Latin, English, German, Swahili, Klingon, or any other language. I have
> > looked up some original descriptions from the early 19th Century. They
> > often read something like "Mr. Foxworthy, a distinguished gardener from
> > Birmingham, showed me a plant with yellow flowers, which he called `Flora
> > flava.'" Poof! You have a new, validly published name, Flora flava
> > Foxworthy ex Sims or whatever. Requiring the Latin description prevents
> > this sort of thing, forcing the author to do some extra work and some
> > extra thought in order to have a name become officially acceptible.
Wolfgang Wuster replied:

> Requiring the description to be in Latin will not prevent this kind of
> thing. What will prevent it is a requirement for a holotype to be
> deposited in a major natural history collection, and a requirement to
> publish description in peer-reviewed journals - the peer-review process
> would hopefully weed out bad descriptions.

Laferriere  replies:

The Latin description does indeed prevent the sort of thing to
which I was referring, i.e. inadvertant publication by someone not even
realizing the name he/she is using is new. The Latin description at least
forces the author to make the conscious decision to coin a new name.
Invalid names are still used frequently today, in contexts similar to
that which I described. However, without the Latin description they are
nomina nuda devoid of any standing. Thus we can all just ignore them.
    The requirement for holotype designation has been in effect in botany
for nearly 40 years, and I support it. However, requiring that the
publication be in a peer-review journal is not currently the case, and I
for one would strongly oppose any move to institute such a requirement.
Several reasons: 1) I would envision a 30-year debate over what would
quaify as a "peer-reviewed journal;" 2) how would a reader tell whether a
journal is peer-reviewed or not by looking at it; 3) many species today
are published in book-length monographs, not journals, and I see no
compelling reason to change this.

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