improper Latin

Thomas G. Lammers lammers at FMPPR.FMNH.ORG
Tue Dec 17 05:59:27 CST 1996

At 08:06 PM 12-14-96 -0700, you wrote:

>   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.

I faced just such a situation a few years ago.  In the late 1980's, a
greatly revered taxonomist published nearly two hundred new species of
Hawaiian Lobelioideae a few years ago in a non-refereed journal, each with a
sentence or two of Latin.  No illustrations, no extended English
description.  Grammatically, the Latin was OK, but in no case was the Latin
"diagnosis" diagnostic.  That is, it was absolutely impossible to tell what
the plant was, how it differed from its 100 or so previously described
congeners, from the diagnosis.  Each was merely a handful of morphological
characters in Latin.  I very seriously considered attempting to dismiss them
all as not validly published on the grounds that no Latin diagnosis was
provided, merely an abbreviated Latin description.  In the end, I decided it
was easier to just accept them as validly published [as I said, he was
greatly revered] and examine types to determine disposition of the names,
something I had to do anyway.  Sadly, he was as careless with his types as
with his Laytin, and a dozen or more still haven't turned up.  As it turned
out, only four turned out to actually represent previously undescribed
species, and even they had to be transferred to a different genus; the rest
are synonyms.  Sadly, he proceded in a similar fashion in other families, so
I'm not the only one to have a mess like this to clean up.

I guess my point is that courtesy dectates that if the Latin diagnosis is
offered in good faith, we must accept it as meeting the requirements for
valid publication of a name, even if the name remains "species dubia" or
"incertae sedis" because of flaws in its composition.

Thomas G. Lammers                                       lammers at
Department of Botany
Center for Evolutionary and Environmental Biology
Field Museum of Natural History
Roosevelt Road at Lake Shore Drive
Chicago, Illinois 60605-2496 USA

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