[Taxacom] Family names are plural. Period

Richard Pyle deepreef at bishopmuseum.org
Tue Feb 19 14:24:26 CST 2008

I agree with almost everything Michael Ivie writes below, except for two

"...the usage is simply incorrect..."


"...but it is simply wrong."

To me, this is akin to saying:

"Treating Aus bus as a synonym of Aus xus is simply wrong."

In my view, words are like "species", in that both are created by humans to
help facilitate communication. Certainly, in both cases (species and words)
their effectiveness as tools of communication is a function of stability and
consistency of usage. Nevertheless, the definitions and meanings are not
universal, and can evolve over time. Just as I avoid thinking in terms of
absolutes when discussing species, I acknowledge that questions concerning
"correct" grammar must also be answered in the context of space and time
(and among whom communication is being attempted).

Obviously, there is variation in the degree of assertiveness.  Most of us
would nod in agreement with the statement, "Treating Homo sapiens as a
synonym of Tyrannosaurus rex is simply wrong"; just as we would collectively
brand the statement "I are feeling good" as grammatically incorrect.  At the
other end of the spectrum, the statement, "Treating Centropyge flavicauda as
a synonym of C. fisheri is simply wrong", is open to debate. Likewise, I
don't think the grammar police will come down too hard on me when I say,
"Hopefully, this thread will come to an end soon."

Them's be my opinions, anyway.



> -----Original Message-----
> From: taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu 
> [mailto:taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu] On Behalf Of 
> Michael A. Ivie
> Sent: Tuesday, February 19, 2008 7:15 AM
> To: taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
> Subject: [Taxacom] Family names are plural. Period
> I can understand why people have trouble with this, as in 
> normal speech and in many written works, the usage is simply 
> incorrect, to the point that it looks like it is OK.  Kind of 
> like if enough people in a city are rude, it becomes 
> acceptable to be rude. 
> There are examples of this double situation with originally 
> English words, where a word can sometimes be used as either 
> singular or plural depending on the context, but in other 
> cases cannot:
> "The fish is green/ The fish are green." are both correct, 
> depending on context.
> However, "The fish are running this week." is always plural.
> "The deer is dead/ The deer are dead." Both may be correct.
> "The deer are abundant this year." is the only correct form.
> Just to totally confuse everyone, "fishes" and "deers" can 
> both be used, but only when referring to a collective of more 
> than one species of the group.
> Given this mess that English presents, it is no wonder that 
> even native speakers have problems.
> However, in the case of a family group name in Zoology, used 
> in its original formal Latinized construction, the fact 
> remains that it is "a noun in the nominative plural."  There 
> are no ifs, ands or buts about this, the name is "a noun in 
> the nominative plural."  This statement is written in 
> English, and this text in English is an Authorative Version 
> (Art. 87).  Therefore, the idea that "we are writing English, 
> not Latin" 
> is irrelevant.  The Code is not written in Latin.  The 
> definition of the family group name when writing in English 
> is "a noun in the nominative plural" and this is IS HOW IT IS 
> TO BE USED IN ENGLISH.  Germans writing in German can make up 
> their own rules, the French have an official version of the 
> Code to use, but in English, the fact is set -- it is a 
> plural.   It must not, therefore, be treated as singular in 
> English when 
> used in this form.  If the user wants to treat it as singular 
> vernacular English, and look literate, s/he should anglicize 
> it, and then use it as a singular, with normal English 
> pluralization using a terminal "s". 
> Examples:
> "The Tenebrionidae are widespread." 
> "The tenebrionids are widespread."
>  "That tenebriond is black."
> NEVER "That Tenebrionidae is black."
> Note also that the Latin name is a proper noun in English, 
> and is capitalized, but the anglicized version is not, and is 
> treated in lower case.
> Forming a sentence where recognizing the family name as 
> plural is awkward is IMPROPER SENTENCE STRUCTURE, not a 
> problem with the noun status.  Rewrite the sentence to be 
> correctly formed, and you have solved the problem.  This can 
> be proved by diagramming the sentence, recognizing the fact 
> that the family name is a nominative plural, and then looking 
> at the word connections.  It will be immediately obvious that 
> the sentence structure is the problem, not the status of the 
> noun (surely all the English native speakers remember how to 
> diagram a sentence? Seventh Grade English?)
> Accepting the use of plurals from other languages as 
> singulars in English is a case of "dumbing down" and should 
> be fought at every level in the sciences.  Scientists do not 
> (or should not) accept "larvas," 
> "femurs," "data" as a singular (in this case a truly stupid 
> concept), and we should not use the singular case for a noun 
> in the nominative 
> plural.   Argue all you want that you like it that way, but 
> it is simply 
> wrong. 
> Mike
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