capitalizing vernacular [English] names

Karl Magnacca kmagnacca at WESLEYAN.EDU
Thu Mar 3 18:05:38 CST 2005

On 3 Mar 2005 at 19:01, Frederick W. Schueler wrote:
> Karl Magnacca wrote:
> > Nothing except birds have their names
> > capitalized regularly, probably because the AOU and Audubon Society
> > have enough of a dominant influence that they can make it that way
> * it's not necessarily an offense for ornithologists to be right about
> something (is it?),

As an entomologist, it's deeply offensive to me :-)

Anyway, my point was that it doesn't matter whether they are right or
wrong; it just gets done because somebody decided it should be that way
in all the books.

> and capitalizing the names of species isn't that rare - the names of
> Amphibians and reptiles are capitalized in North America

Not that often.  A quick search on the California red-legged frog found
it capitalized only about a quarter to a third of the time.

> * maybe the question is whether the conclusions of systematics and
> philosophy are important enough to export into the vernacular? My belief
> is that it is important for conservation that species and other taxa be
> recognized as historic individuals, and that capitalization can
> contribute to the sense that they're distinctive and important

I guess we'll have to agree to disagree then, because I don't think it
will do squat for conservation.

> But I'm not advocating changing the rules of English, just following
> the rules employed for human individuals and institutions when they
> apply to taxa.

But that is changing the rules, because names of organisms were not
previously capitalized.  Grammatical rules are not consistent; that's
why Esperanto was invented.

"Democracy used to be a good thing, but now it has
gotten into the wrong hands."   --Jesse Helms

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