Shabby latin/What taxonomy is and is not

Fri Dec 20 10:42:23 CST 1996

On Fri, 20 Dec 1996, Richard A. Fagerlund <fagerlun at UNM.EDU> wrote:
>I have been reading the postings on shabby latin for a few days now.
>I am not a botanist, I practice entomology.   I think in both zoology and
>botany, that we have lost sight of exactly what the primary function of
>a taxonomist is.  Simply, it is to provide names to organisms for future
>use by research biologists and ecologists, nothing more, nothing less.

Like Dick Jensen, I second Harvey Ballard's response and explanation
that taxonomy goes far beyond "providing names".  Dr. Albert Radford,
retired plant taxonomist and emeritus director of the herbarium at the
University of North Carolina, always stressed the need for ACCURATE
definitions of not just our descriptive terminology, but of our concepts
as well.  (See his _Fundamentals of Plant Systematics_ -- he even
defines "definition"!)  Having had the privilege of being his student,
I am in shock that a fellow systematist would describe our activities
as "nothing more" than naming organisms!  No wonder we are so
misunderstood by our scientific colleagues and the public at large!
Dr. Radford taught me that taxonomy is comprised of 4 fundamental
components:  classification, identification, description, and nomenclature.
Another point that he strongly impressed on me is the difference between
the principles and rules regarding each.  While the ICBN discusses
"description" (i.e., requiring a Latin diagnosis), it is written FOR
NOMENCLATURE!  THAT'S the "use of a code that doesn't care whether a
Latin description is unintelligible or not".

Happy Holidays to all!
Deb Lewis

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Deborah Q. Lewis, Curator
Ada Hayden Herbarium                            Ph.: [1]515/294-9499
Department of Botany                            FAX: [1]515/294-1337
Iowa State University                     E-mail: dlewis at
Ames, IA  50011-1020

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