Vernacular concepts

Richard Jensen rjensen at SAINTMARYS.EDU
Thu Mar 3 08:30:13 CST 2005

I think Steve has read more into my comments than was there.  I did say that
vernacular names are often more stable than latinized binomials, but nowhere did I
suggest that they were more valid than the latter.  I simply was pointing out a
fact, with an example to make my point.

I also disagree that vernacular names are superfluous, at least as I understand
superfluous and as I see vernacular names used.  As an example, a great many
historical documents, such as land deeds, papers of corporation and other legal
documents, and formal descriptions of the local biota,  make reference explicitly
to taxa by only their vernacular names.  Proper interpretation of these documents
requires that we be able to recognize the correspondence between these vernacular
names and the binomials that were in use at the time as well as current binomials.
Besides, prudent use of vernacular names can greatly enhance communication between
the nomenclaturally challenged and the nomenclaturally literate components of any
society.  Yes, if we all agreed to start every child out on a system of purely
scientific nomenclature (just emphasizing generic epithets as Steve suggested), we
could make vernacular names superfluous.  But that is unlikely to happen; besides,
vernacular names are often far more descriptive and intrinsically alliterative or
esthetic when used in everyday communication than are their valid counterparts.
Would "Gone With the Wind" be the same if the plantation had been named Seven
Quercus rather than Seven Oaks.  Saying "a rosa is a rosa is a rosa" loses its
meter compared to its vernacular counterpart, and "Rondo on a Reluctant Raphanus
sativus" just doesn't compare to "Rondo on a Reluctant Radish"!


Dick J.

Steve Manning wrote:

> Just a couple of more thoughts:
> (1) To get around the obvious fact that binomials are usually a little more
> difficult to learn than single word names, how about emphasizing either the
> genus or species name but not both, for children and students?  This is
> already done in some cases, perhaps due to historical accident.  For
> example, If there is a vernacular name for "Begonia" I am unaware of it and
> I doubt that even those not using English or the western alphabet would
> find that hugely difficult to learn from childhood.  Even non-botanical
> Americans would probably use that name.  Why not make a conscious effort to
> do something similar with Quercus and other genera?  (admittedly Quercus is
> a longer word than Oak but that seems a minor problem).  Then if you wanted
> to talk about that particular one you could say, that is Quercus texana.
> (2) Without meaning to beat a dead horse, the fact that vernacular names
> are sometimes more stable than scientific ones does not give them greater
> validity. Vernacular names are fundamentally superfluous!  The rules of
> priority do not extend to them!  Surely we should not reduce our use of
> scientific names just because a vernacular one is more familiar.  I would
> go one step further and suggest reduction in use of vernacular names, in
> published and verbal communications, as much as possible and maybe that
> will "trickle down" to the general populace to some extent.  (I admit I do
> not always practice what I am preaching here but it is inadvertent when it
> happens).
> Steve
> At 08:39 AM 3/2/2005 -0500, Richard Jensen wrote:
> >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...?
> >
> >Cheers,
> >
> >Dick
> >
> >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    |
> Dr. Steve Manning
> Arkansas State University--Beebe
> Mathematics and Science
> Professor of Biology
> P.O. Box 1000
> Beebe, AR  72012
> Phone: 501-882-8203
> Fax: 501-882-4437

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    |

More information about the Taxacom mailing list