Vernacular concepts

Richard Jensen rjensen at SAINTMARYS.EDU
Wed Mar 2 08:39:15 CST 2005

I agree with Ron's comments (with minor exception).  "Scientific names" are no
more difficult that a great many vernacular names.  In fact, I am more likely to
forget vernaculr names than scientific names.  But there is an ubderlying
problem - vernacular names often have greater stability than scientific names.
For example,  Nuttall's oak, was named in the early 20th century - Quercus
nuttallii.  All arborists, nurserymen, etc. use that name for the species in
question.  But, Nuttall's oak is now Quercus texana - a legitimate renaming
based on the type materials of Nuttall's oak.  Unfortunately, referring to it as
Texas oak or Texas red oak is out of the question because those names were used
for several different taxa, one of which is Q. buckleyi, which could be called
Buckley's oak.

I disagree with Ron that those of us in the USA (remember, American refers to
everyone from Nunuvit to Tierra del Fuego!) are the dumbest.  We are perhaps the
most parochial and least willing to invest time in learning other languages.  I
feel fortunate that those for whom English is a second language participate in
this list by using their second (or third...) language because I an
language-challeneged and could only follow some of the comments that arrived in
Spanish, a few words of those in French, and virtually nothing else.

I think any comprehensive listing of vernacular names must specify all
vernacular names in any language.  On the other hand, I would think a treatise
on vernacular names of France, China, Australia [well, this may be a stretch ;-)
] would prove useful for anyone dealing with the biota of those countries.

Now, what to call Quercus texana...?



Ron Gatrelle wrote:

> That latin names can be intimidating to a significant sector of
> human society may be unfortunate, and may even be "correctable" (e.g., kids
> seem to be able to deal with latin names for dinosaurs without
> difficulty) -- but is nevertheless undeniable reality of the present, and of
> the historical past.
> ***********
> Well, I reject this categorically.  I didn't want to get into this but here
> goes.   My 16 year old daughter gets freaked out at mice.  She has no
> problems with snakes and fuzzy bugs crawling on her arms.  The reason is
> simple - her mother got to her before I did on the mice.  (Mom has problems
> with everything alive - except little dogs.)
> The learning of, or comfortability with, scientific names has nothing to do
> with some innate hardness to them.  It is a taught societal response.   Yes,
> kids of all nations have no problems with dinosaur names.  The reasons are
> simple.   1 No one has ever put it in their heads that those 10 syllable
> scientific dinosaur names are tooooo hard, so don't try.  2) There are
> virtually no common names available for them.   Godzilla, coca-cola, kiwi,
> Mitsubishi, pizza and Rhinoceros do just fine multiculturally.
> Not to offend, but I see Birders the world over as folks who just loveeee
> those common names and seem to find every excuse possible to avoid
> scientific names. Yes?   How about Coleopterists?  Bacteriologists?  Why the
> different terminological choices?   IF people or hobbyist societies want to
> use vernacular names, more power to them.  I use plenty of vernacular names
> with Lepidoptera.   But let's not get into (once again) the cooked up notion
> that scientific names are just  --  too damn hard.
> Last I checked Latin is basically a dead language and is no more "natural"
> to me as an way undereducated American than any other speaker.
> Pronunciations?   Hey, when I get with other lepidopterists I often have no
> way of knowing what they are referring to until I get them to spell it.
> OHhhh!   Catacola!  But then again as a white US southerner I can't
> understand my fellow black southerners half the time.   Many years ago (when
> I was young) I liked to play basketball in the parks and city gym.  Sitting
> on the sidelines this black fellow asked (axed) me several times.  " Waaa
> immee yah got, man"   Finally, he very frustratedly grabbed my arm and took
> a look at my watch..  Ahh, he was saying "What time you got, man".   How the
> tongue rolls and lips form sounds differs greatly within all nations except
> the most monolinguistic.  A friend went to England, he came back and said,
> "I thought they spoke English over thar".
> Lastly, since I am griping.  I often have the though that what lots of
> people really want is not vernacular names but common names in _English_.
> That is really my biggest complaint - and I'm an American!!!   If I was of
> any other nation (from Tibet to Uganda to Chile) I'd get tired of "English
> speakers" doing a book on the Whatevers of the World with all those
> "English" vernacular names for my country - that we never heard of much less
> use.
> Real vernacular names are the common names used by the farmers in what ever
> country they are in.  Otherwise what we have are really only contrived and
> "standardized" English terms for the world's biota.  Common or vernacular
> names are like religion to me.  Keep em out of the classroom, lectures, and
> text books and in the home and personal life where they belong.
> Ron Gatrelle
> PS  I always feel (A) badly because this group is posted in only English and
> (B) always dumb because I can't speak any other language and (C) am
> continually impressed with how well the rest of you write and read my native
> tongue.   How did the dumbest people in the world get in charge (or at least
> _think_ they are in charge)?

Richard J. Jensen              | tel: 574-284-4674
Department of Biology      | fax: 574-284-4716
Saint Mary's College         | e-mail: rjensen at
Notre Dame, IN 46556    |

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