Vernacular concepts

Frederick W. Schueler bckcdb at ISTAR.CA
Sat Feb 26 09:16:34 CST 2005

Curtis Clark wrote:

> on 2005-02-25 14:28 David Remsen wrote:
> > It seems to me that while there are some groups and attempts to regulate or create "official" lists of vernacular names for a given purpose that this is really a subjective process independent of a more broadly defined objective vernacular concept.
> There are cultural and sociological dimensions as well: to many
> indigenous groups, "official vernacular names" would be the equivalent
> of cultural genocide.
> In fact, I started using the term "vernacular name" instead of "common
> name" because in plants (at least in the United States), there are many
> attempts to regulate "common names", especially of listed species (for
> which common names are invented when they don't already exist).

* that's my take on 'vernacular' vs 'common' as well - here's an entry
from a manual of English useage that I'm compiling (modeled on Bierce &

"There are no common names for the frogs of the genus Pseudacris,"
(Charles F. Walker. 1946. The Amphibians of Ohio. Part I, the Frogs and
Toads. Ohio State Museum Science Bulletin 1(3)). The ‘name' of a species
is its Name under the applicable code of nomenclature, and there are no
grounds for fabricating ‘common' names that do not have a vernacular
origin. Vernacular names are to be collected by the naturalist, not
invented, especially if the invented 'common' name is a vapid restating
of the species' Name.  In Ontario, the English name of Elaphe vulpina is
‘Whomper' or ‘Swamp Whomper:' ‘Fox Snake' is a pitiful translation of
the Name, redolent of incomplete and half-assimilated book-learning.
Since Walker wrote, the blight he implied has reached epidemic
proportions with the insistence of field guide publishers that every
species must have an English name.  Extreme examples of this can be
found among Fungi, where many mushroom-fruiting species were called only
by their Names until publishers insisted on made-up English names: even
if it's the ‘Forest Friend' in one book, and the ‘Oak-loving Collybia'
in another for what everybody used to happily denominate Collybia


           Bishops Mills Natural History Centre
Frederick W. Schueler, Aleta Karstad, Jennifer Helene Schueler
      RR#2 Bishops Mills, Ontario, Canada K0G 1T0
   on the Smiths Falls Limestone Plain 44* 52'N 75* 42'W
     (613)258-3107 <bckcdb at>
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