improper Latin

Sat Dec 14 20:06:48 CST 1996

The ICBN requires that the name of a new plant or fungal name
be accompanied by a Latin description or diagnosis. It does not
say how long the description must be; I have seen some only one
or two lines long. It also does not say the description must be
correct; indeed, if a purported synonym is given, the name
is a later synonym of the earlier name even if the type does not
match the new description at all. For example, if I published:

Lycopersicon arborea, sp nov. Folia palmata aurea. =Zea mays L.

my new name is a synonym of Zea mays. Period. The description
is irrelevant, and so is any specimen I may have cited as
type. The type is that of Zea mays, not whatever I designated.
   My question for the nomenclature experts around is this:
suppose the author makes serious mistakes in the Latin. How
bad does the Latin have to be before one can declare that a
Latin description was not provided? One could argue that if
the description contained two sentences, one in correct Latin,
the other in incorrect Latin, the one in correct Latin was
sufficient to satisfy the requirements of the ICBN.
   This is not an idle question. Many systematists today have
not studied Latin and write their descriptions by plowing
their way thru Prof. Stearn's indispensable book. I am
guilty of this myself. One can insist that authors should
ask a Latin expert to review the descriptions before publication,
but the fact remains that this is often left undone, and
the question remains.

Joseph E. Laferriere
Tucson, Arizona, USA
JosephL at

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