Language and descriptions.

Don Colless donc at ENTO.CSIRO.AU
Fri Oct 27 12:37:47 CDT 1995

     It seems clear that botanists live in a different (taxonomic) world to
entomologists such as myself. We frequently review, say, a genus (which may be
a new one), for which we probably have no more than 50% of the extant species.
I (and most of my colleagues) therefore eschew "diagnoses", for the very good
reason that their usefulness is likely to be transitory. There are quite likely
to be other species out there that render the (necessarily short) diagnosis
misleading. Instead, we practise a finely-balanced art - of proffering a
"description" that includes all known diagnostic features AS WELL AS a judicious
selection of other attributes that we consider likely to be of use: (a) to help
confirm identifications made using the "key", which we also provide; and (b) to
cover the case of hitherto unknown taxa.

     Under these circumstances, the question of a diagnosis in Latin (or any
other tongue) does not arise. Nor would it be practicable, as a routine
procedure, to offer descriptions in a language other than our mother tongue(s)
(except for the rare souls who are genuinely bilingual). To compose a full
description in an unfamiliar tongue, while retaining many quite subtle, but
very important, distinctions, would be impossibly laborious.

     My conclusion is, that taxonomists will go on doing as they have come to
do over the years, each in his own way and according to his circumstances.
Our practices represent the result of many decades of trial-and-error; they
have evolved with our discipline. It may be inconvenient to have to get a
description translated; but how often is it more than that?

               *                                        *
               *  Don Colless, CSIRO Div of Entomology, *
               *  CANBERRA. ACT. AUSTRALIA              *
               *                                        *
               *     Tuz li munz est miens envirun      *

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