italicized latin names

Alfred F. Newton newton at FMPPR.FMNH.ORG
Thu Apr 4 14:00:50 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)?

and John McNeill replied:

>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.

     I don't know the historical reasons for the convention that only
generic and specific names are italicized as recommended in the Zoological
Code, but can think of a rational reason:  Names of genera and higher taxa
are single words of Latin or Greek origin (or appearance) starting with a
capital letter and referring to groups of species.  Thus, it can sometimes
be difficult to distinguish one from the other type in text, and the
convention of italicizing only generic names (along with species names)
eliminates any ambiguity.

Alfred F. Newton  (newton at
Field Museum of Natural History - Zoology, Insects
Chicago, IL 60605 USA
     tel. 312-922-9410 ext. 263;  fax 312-663-5397

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