Vernacular concepts

Paul van Rijckevorsel dipteryx at FREELER.NL
Tue Mar 1 13:28:40 CST 2005

From: Robin Leech <releech at TELUSPLANET.NET>
> The thing that makes a vernacular name reliable is the same thing
> that makes a scientific name reliable - that everyone  who
> uses the name, be it vernacular or scientific, has the same
> organism in mind.
> Robin Leech

Beautiful. The point of course being that a database-maker has to see to it
that the "everybody who uses the name" is carefully documented. Otherwise
the "everybody who uses the name" will be assumed to be "everybody who uses
the database".

To once again drag up a hoary example. If I go out to the nearest
gardening center and tell them I want to plant a cedar in my garden they
will likely sell me (if they stock these) _Cedrus atlantica_, unless I
insist on "real cedar", and I may get _Cedrus libani_.  If I find an
architect and tell him I want a garden shed or gazebo in my garden which
must be made of cedar he will likely think exclusively of _Thuja plicata_.
If I go to a cigar specialist and tell him I am throwing a gardening party
to show off my new gazebo and want to offer the guests cigars but that I
insist on a box made of cedar, he will take this as no other taxon than
_Cedrela odorata_. However if I go to a store and tell them I am looking for
hangers made of cedar to hang among my clothes and scare away insects then
they will sell me _Juniperus viriginiana_.

These may be regarded as four different vernacular names, each perfectly
reliable in the proper context.

A database that lists these as:
1) cedar - Cedrus atlantica
2) cedar - Thuja plicata
3) cedar - Cedrela odorata
4) cedar - Juniperus viriginiana

will have converted four "reliable vernacular names" (each in its own
specific context) into a big mess.

[Obviously this is not only one and the same spelling, but these names also
have the same basic meaning, with specific meaning only existing in that
specific context. The above example, although good in that it shows off one
name in a single language, in a single locality, at one point of time, that
will have different well-established meanings depending on who it is spoken
to, is too limited. It leaves out the time element. The same name in the
same language, in the same locality, in the same context, can have different
meanings depending on at what point in time it is spoken. A few decades can
make quite a difference.]

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