italicized latin names

Curtis Clark jcclark at CSUPOMONA.EDU
Thu Apr 4 12:27:52 CST 1996

At 09:28 AM 4/4/96 -0400, 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)?

Here's what I tell my students: In English text, foreign words are
ordinarily italicized, and generic and specific names are in a foreign
language, Latin. If one were writing in Latin (in a description, for
example), the names wouldn't be italicized.

Names of families and above appear to be Latin also, but they are actually
English names that are spelled exactly the same as the Latin.  This bizarre
conclusion is based on the fact that in many other languages these groups
have names that are obviously in that language, e.g. papaveracees,
Papaveraceen, papaveraceas.

This is not logical, and in fact may not be true, but as I tell my students,
anything done "by convention" usually has a reason behind it.

Curtis Clark
Biological Sciences Department                     Voice: (909) 869-4062
California State Polytechnic University, Pomona    FAX:   (909) 869-4396
Pomona CA 91768-4032                               jcclark at

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