More on vernacular names

Curtis Clark jcclark-lists at EARTHLINK.NET
Sun Mar 6 09:39:39 CST 2005

on 2005-03-06 01:47 Paul van Rijckevorsel wrote:
> Yes, "Milk comes from a carton. The cartons come from the factory". However,
> the ready acceptance of soy milk (at least as being a "milk") shows that the
> danger is from losing contact with reality, rather than from connecting it
> to types (of /Bos taurus/ resp /Glycine max/)?

Except that for non-systematists, shifting from a meme to a type *is*
losing contact with reality. The meme is right there in everyday use,
but the type is some skinned, preserved, or shriveled thing in a museum
somewhere. I think those of us in the "biz" often forget the disconnect
that most people have between specimens and everyday life.

As long as it is represented that the type and the meme are "the same
thing", there aren't any issues. When a scientist says "The earliest
name for this species concept in Castilleja is C. exserta," that has no
effect on the average person and little effect even on most biologists.
But let's say some agency says "The plant formerly known as Purple
Owl's-clover should now be called Exserted Paintbrush." The rational
approach would be to give the meme a different name. But the expected
approach is to assume that the situation is more complicated than it
seemed, and disavow understanding of the organism. After all, there's
only so much time, and it's better spent reading the nutrition label on
soy milk. :-)

I have to admit that a similar thing has happened to me with respect to
Brontosaurus, which since my youth has for me been a meme. I know that
"it" is appropriately called Apatosaurus, and that it has something to
do with the skull and body belonging to different organisms, and with
the part that is the type, but beyond that I haven't a clue (although I
suppose I could Google it). Fortunately, it being such an important meme
in our stereotypic view of the Mesozoic, the popular literature has
facilitated the name change. But not every species can be so lucky.

Curtis Clark        
Web Coordinator, Cal Poly Pomona                 +1 909 979 6371
Professor, Biological Sciences                   +1 909 869 4062

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