nomenclatural rules

Sat Dec 21 10:53:43 CST 1996

I disagree with the recent comments that the discussions on
Latin descriptions and correct Latin endings represent "silly"
distractions from the "real" work of systematists. There is a
reason we have rules of nomenclature, i.e. so that there will
not be competing schools of thought on what the correct
scientific name of a particular taxon should be. Just look at
some early 19th-Century literature and see what chaos can
be caused when biologists feel free to change any name they
find disagreeable (for example, pick up any book by Rafinesque).
    The cornerstone of the system in use is the priority rule
 This certainly has its flaws, but noone has devised anything
better. The very nature of the priority system necessitates a
system for deciding whether a particular name is eligible
for consideration in this age competition. Hence the rules
stating that nomina nuda and type-less names are ineligible.
In biology, the decision was made to use Latin as a universal
language so that systematists can read a single language
and not have to waste their time tracking down translators
capable of reading Hopi, Cambodian, or Klingon. If you wish
to propose changing this, fine. Perhaps a rule saying that
a description in any of the six languages of the UN (English,
French, Spanish, Russian, Chinese, or Arabic) would be
acceptable. What we have been discussing is applications of
the rules as currently written.

Erratum: I meant "in botany" above where I said "in biology,"
but with this cumbersome aztec e-mail system I am using I cannot
correct this. Sorry.

Joseph E. Laferriere
Tucson, Arizona, USA
JosephL at

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