"arcane" rules/was gender of -opsis

Gregory Zolnerowich gzolnero at OZNET.KSU.EDU
Thu Aug 15 11:33:53 CDT 2002

Bill Shear mentions ways around the arcane rules by using nouns in
apposition or designating each name as an arbitrary combination or
letters. Martin Spies takes me to task in the belief that dropping
the language rules would weaken the science of systematics.

Once again, why have rules that are subject to various
interpretations, cause confusion, are ignored or routinely bypassed
through arbitrary combinations of letters, or are frequently
improperly applied?

The point is that there are more important things to do and worry
about, and clinging to such rules makes our science look like an
outmoded relic. I don't see it as relaxing standards or weakening our

Like the language rules, hand-cranked telephones were interesting and
have an air of comfort and  nostalgia, but there are better and more
important things now.


Greg Z.

>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

Dr. Gregory Zolnerowich
Department of Entomology
123 Waters Hall
Kansas State University
Manhattan, KS 66506-4004

e-mail: gzolnero at oznet.ksu.edu
office: 785-532-3799
lab: 785-532-3851

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