"arcane" rules/was gender of -opsis

Lynn Raw lynn.raw at VIRGIN.NET
Fri Aug 16 00:03:38 CDT 2002

Doug Yanega wrote:

> More to the point, there are other people *besides* active
> taxonomists that have need to know the names for things, and when the
> same exact organism appears under two names that differ only in
> whether they end with an -a or an -us, not only does it do our public
> image little credit, but it wreaks havoc for database managers,
> people doing web searches, cataloguers, etc. It was appropriate that
> John Noyes chimed in here a moment ago, as he's a good example of
> someone who is negatively affected by this sort of thing: there are
> at least 13 species names on his CD-ROM of world Chalcidoidea that
> are "-opsis" genera with *masculine* epithets. He now has to go in,
> track these down one by one (to exclude the possibility that the
> authors of both the genera and the species didn't write in some
> counter-Code exclusionary clauses), and CHANGE them in the next
> edition of the CD-ROM. It's a hard enough (and often thankless) task
> to make a decent catalog, and it's made vastly worse if you're
> expected to track the proper conjugation of tens of THOUSANDS of
> names. To continue the story, when John issues the new CD, then those
> of us who use it as a database authority file are going to have to
> manually go into our databases (after doing a search for non-matching
> names) and eliminate the duplicated taxon names, because our database
> software CANNOT recognize that Tineobiopsis mexicanus Gibson 1995 and
> Tineobiopsis mexicana Gibson 1995 are the same taxon unless we tell
> it so.

Surely this complaint about the endings of taxon names could be eliminated
with some fairly simple database programming. After all, -us, -a and -um
endings are all gender variants of the same words and so are -is and -e.
Searching databases wouldn't even need to go this far, when I search my
rather ancient DOS based database I take the trouble to enter the different
endings or else base my search on the simpler option of using the root word
without the ending. Sometimes there ARE simple solutions that don't need
revolutionary reforms.

Knowing which ending is actually correct sometimes does need specialist
knowledge or advice. I would expect that anyone offering what purports to be
an authoritative database on CD ROM would have this on hand in the first
place. If not, perhaps a disclaimer as to the accuracy of its authority
might be in order.

His other complaint about accessibility of literature does affect us all in
one way or another. Perhaps those with access to older and more obscure
literature have an obligation to make it more accessible to others via the
internet or other means. In this respect I have found that many of the older
institutions will provide copies in response to reasonable requests and am
indeed grateful for their kind assistance.

Lynn Raw

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