"arcane" rules/was gender of -opsis

Thu Aug 15 18:00:20 CDT 2002

Gregory Zolnerowich wrote:

> Doesn't the multitude of different answers and interpretations, even
> by the Latin and Greek geeks, argue for abandoning these ancient and
> arcane language rules?
> Greg Zolnerowich

Dear Greg,

excuse me, but I beg to differ. As Stephen Gaimari has noted
just before, the question had been answered completely and
succinctly by Dr. Thayer in one of the first replies. All later
comments - the gentlemen who sent them may forgive me -
just made a straight alley seem like a labyrinth.
Why? Because Dr. Thayer apparently was the only one
applying the proper method of consulting the necessary
sources on the subject (dictionaries and the ICZN).
With this, the scientific approach instead of guesswork
(admitted by some of the other contributors) - it wasn't at all
difficult for Dr. Thayer to find the correct answer.

In my opinion, considering general or academic education,
classical languages are no more an "arcane" field than the
taxonomy or systematics of any group of organisms. Since
most of us even in our everyday, non-taxonomic lives are
trying to use languages - sometimes resulting in "strenuous"
"lithography" - that happen to involve a lot of words and
concepts derived from classical roots, one might even say that
of the above two fields taxonomy is the more "arcane".

But no matter: both of these fields are expert systems,
meaning that it takes special, long-term effort to acquire
knowledge, and that only few will get there whereas most
will not. As taxonomists we are trying to convince society
that it would suffer if it stopped support and recognition for
specialists like us. Should we, therefore, apply a different
standard within our field?
I believe, we are already witnessing what happens in
societies who keep lowering the bar in education instead of
inspiring and challenging people to learn more, and who
place obstacles instead of special rewards in the way of
those who are specially knowledgable or talented (if those
talents are not immediately 'marketable').

Nomenclature - in large part - is about words, and words
carry the more power and beauty the more meaning they
contain. So when we are dealing with words with a meaning
and history reaching back many hundreds of years, why not
exercise the same curiosity and respect that we are
accustomed to applying with those other historically grown
objects we study, the organisms?

It's not a character flaw, mind you, if you don't yet know
what classical stems the words you're using are derived from,
nor if you can't discern or determine the species of insects
populating your yard.
But for a scientist what is equally important to knowing
is to admit to what one doesn't yet know, and then
to learn oneself or try and find somebody who does know.
The latter is rather easy nowadays with communication
platforms like this list.

So, please, let's not disorient people turning to us for help
by pretending to know when we don't, and let's not call
any branch of knowledge superfluous or "arcane" just
because we happen to not have it.


Martin Spies
Schraemelstr. 151
D-81247 Muenchen

Email: spies at zi.biologie.uni-muenchen.de

Tel. (ZSM) +49 89 8107 153
Fax (ZSM) +49 89 8107 300

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