Vernacular concepts

David Remsen dremsen at MBL.EDU
Mon Feb 28 10:08:56 CST 2005

Paul van Rijckevorsel wrote:

> It looks like a non-definition to me: it merely shifts the burden to
> the
> source used.

Perhaps what I presented is not a definition then but rather an
operating principle for cataloging them.

> It is quite possible that an item "Chochuschuvio (Hopi) - White Tailed
> Deer"
> is much more reliable than "bonito -  Katsuwonas pelamis".

What makes one vernacular name more reliable than another?  Is it in
the quality of associated data?  Is it the degree of ambiguity
presented by the relationship of the string with other names?

Two weeks ago an MBL researcher wrote to me.  He isn't a taxonomist, he
is a researcher on cytoskeleton structure.  He took exception to the
use (within ITIS) of "green sea urchin" as a name for  Lytechinus
variegatus when "everyone knows" that this is the "Bermuda urchin" and
isn't green while the "real" green sea urchin is Strongylocentrotus
droebachiensis.   All I could tell him is that is how it is.  If enough
people refer to Lytechinus as the "green sea urchin" than green or not
it joins droebachiensis as a vernacular concept.

  Of course all the collectors refer to droebachiensis  as "Strongy" but
fortunately none of them actually write anything down.  New England
fishermen refer to this species with such a colorful endearment that I
cannot repeat it here but they all know what it refers to and depending
on your notion of useful information, it could be the nomenclatural
gateway to all sorts of interesting things.

The point is that questions of reliability, quality, and usage, like
scientific names, are, in my opinion,  higher-order issues than simply
accounting for their existence and this requires a broad vernacular
concept definition.

Jim Croft wrote:

>> Clearly there needs to be a many-to-many relationship -- and
>> perhaps one that accomodates "in part" correspondence.
> That's the right answer - there is nothing wrong or imperfect with a
> many-to-many relationship... it just 'is' and has to be accommodated,
> referenced, contextualized... that may not be what people want, but
> hey,
> life was not meant to be easy...  :)

I agree with this.  These are the facts.  People make them up and use
them as is convenient and there is no control over it.  Accounting for
them will reveal some as more useful than others and more useful in
different contexts but they certainly offer a means to connect an
increasing amount of high-quality information that does not employ
these forms to the majority of the population that do.

David Remsen
uBio Project Developer
Marine Biological Laboratory
Woods Hole, MA 02543

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