italicized latin names

John McNeill johnm at ROM.ON.CA
Thu Apr 4 14:28:11 CST 1996

On April 4, Alan Harvey wrote:

>I've been asked by our publications department (popular press) why
>generic and specific scientific names are italicized/underlined, but
>not any of the higher ranks.  To be truthful, I'd never really given
>it much thought.  The Z-Code recommends this arrangement, but doesn't
>give the underlying rationale.  Anyone know the story/history behind
>this (he asks, hoping the answer's not pitifully obvious)?

So far as I can tell there is no rational reason for this North
American editorial convention.  British practice has recently tended
to establish the same convention, but in the 'sixties and 'seventies,
most publishing houses italicized family names also.

I would refer you to the third paragraph on p. xii of the
International Code of Botanical Nomenclature (the "Tokyo Code"), 1994.
Here the history of italicizing in the ICBN is outlined and the reason
for italicizing ALL scientific names used in the ICBN is explained.

[N.B.  I have located the electronic form of the draft Preface and
append the relevant paragraph below (I have not checked that it is
word for word with the printed version)].

John McNeill

From: John McNeill, Director, Royal Ontario Museum, 100 Queen's Park,
      Toronto, Ontario, M5S 2C6, Canada.
      Tel.: 416-586-5639      Fax: 416-586-8044
      e-mail: johnm at

>From the Preface to the ICBN (Tokyo Code) 1994:

The method by which some or all scientific names are set off in
printed text varies substantially between different countries and
language traditions.  Perhaps as a result, there has been an
unevenness in this regard in different editions of the Code.  In an
attempt to achieve uniformity within the Code, the Sydney Code and the
Berlin Code italicized all scientific names at the rank of family and
below, i.e. those for which priority is mandatory.  The present
Editorial Committee recognized that this arrangement was rather
illogical, and, in the Tokyo Code, all scientific names falling under
the provisions of the Code are italicized, whereas informal
designations appear in Roman type.  For example, in Art. 13.1 (d) the
ordinal names Uredinales, Ustilaginales, etc. are italicized, whereas
the informal group name "fungi" is not.  The Editorial Committee
considers this to be the most appropriate presentation in a code of
nomenclature but does not aim to impose this as a standard to be
followed in other publications, which may have different editorial
traditions, often of long standing.

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