Article in Discover magazine

Thomas G. Lammers lammers at UWOSH.EDU
Mon Mar 14 09:55:18 CST 2005

At 09:38 AM 3/14/2005, Robin Leech wrote:
>Even people have binomens for themselves, be it Ken Kinman, Joshua Foer,
>Ernst Mayr, Robin Leech or even Robin Leach.  There must be a reason I
>don't know Ken Kinman as only Ken or Kinman.  Do you suppose that by
>his binomen I know exactly who he is?
>Or Good ol' Ernst!  Ernst?  Ernst who?
>And our vehicles are known as Subaru Outback and Ford Galaxie.  Perhaps
>we had better explore the reason for these binomens and the wherefores of
>them arising everywhere, and of them being so important for communication.

It must be rooted very deeply in the basics of language, as it is also
reflected in our pattern of substantives and modifiers (nouns and
adjectives).  Most every language, to the best of my knowledge, makes
abundant use of modifiers to more accurately indicate features or
attributes of a substantive.

There probably is some good mathematical reason for binomens as well,
reflecting the maximum possible number of euphonious and pronounceable
names that can be generated efficiently from a language with a given number
of phonemes.  But math is not my long suit, so I shan't speculate in that

Thomas G. Lammers, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor and Curator of the Herbarium (OSH)
Department of Biology and Microbiology
University of Wisconsin Oshkosh
Oshkosh, Wisconsin 54901-8640 USA

e-mail:       lammers at
phone:      920-424-1002
fax:           920-424-1101

Plant systematics; classification, nomenclature, evolution, and
biogeography of the Campanulaceae s. lat.

"Today's mighty oak is yesterday's nut that stood his ground."
                                                               -- Anonymous

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