[Taxacom] Grammar and punctuation. was Family names ...

Edwards, G.B. edwardg at doacs.state.fl.us
Tue Feb 19 15:51:38 CST 2008

I don't recall now how this thread got started, but I do recall that
someone noted that it had been addressed before.  I may not have
belonged to this list long enough to see my personal pet peeve addressed
before, if it was, so here goes...

Numerous journals (fortunately, not the majority) use improper
punctuation in their title format, e.g., (Araneae, Salticidae).  The
proper way to write it is (Araneae: Salticidae).  This is a nested
hierarchical sequence, and the correct way to indicate such is with a
colon; categories of equal rank are separated by a comma.  The CBE style
manual says so.  Basic English punctuation (and I would imagine other
languages as well) says so, e.g., we use it every day when indicating
time (09:32:16 = hours:minutes:seconds).  Yet some journals, in the name
of their own style, feel free to ignore this.  Others opt to use it only
under certain circumstances, i.e., they can't even use a standard format
even if it's wrong.  Please.

Undoubtedly there are some people who feel my objections are trivial.
If this is your view, feel free to not respond.  My take on it is that
it is unscholarly, that it is a lackadaisical format that promotes a
lack of adherence to a scholarly presentation of data, and at its
extreme, could undermine the credibility of a journal.  After all, if a
journal can't even follow basic rules of punctuation, who's knows what
it will publish?  Ok, I'm going overboard, but gosh, what is so hard
about following the rules?  There's not even anything to debate here,
not whether it's singular or plural, nothing.

Rant over.  ;-)

G. B. Edwards, Ph.D.  [Your Friendly Neighborhood Spiderman] 
Curator: Arachnida (except Acari), Myriapoda, Terrestrial Crustacea,
Florida State Collection of Arthropods, FDACS, Division of Plant
P.O.Box 147100, 1911 SW 34th St., Gainesville, FL 32614-7100 USA 
(352) 372-3505 x194; fax (352) 334-0737; edwardg at doacs.state.fl.us 

-----Original Message-----
From: taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
[mailto:taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu] On Behalf Of Richard Pyle
Sent: Tuesday, February 19, 2008 3:24 PM
To: taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
Subject: Re: [Taxacom] Family names are plural. Period

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
help facilitate communication. Certainly, in both cases (species and
their effectiveness as tools of communication is a function of stability
consistency of usage. Nevertheless, the definitions and meanings are not
universal, and can evolve over time. Just as I avoid thinking in terms
absolutes when discussing species, I acknowledge that questions
"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
would nod in agreement with the statement, "Treating Homo sapiens as a
synonym of Tyrannosaurus rex is simply wrong"; just as we would
brand the statement "I are feeling good" as grammatically incorrect.  At
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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