[Taxacom] Family names are plural. Period

Spies, Martin spies at zi.biologie.uni-muenchen.de
Wed Feb 20 06:27:05 CST 2008

Though this contribution may counteract Rich Pyle's wish that 
"Hopefully, this thread will come to an end soon", I (still) heartily 
support his argument for a middle ground here. Rather than looking for 
formal rules to beat someone over the head with who's capable of writing 
(in perfectly appropriate form) for him/herself, I'd prefer the focus to 
be on whether a particular statement is worded such that it facilitates 
meaningful communication and minimizes the danger of misunderstanding, 
which to me includes that meaning and form of the statement should be as 
consistent as possible.

On that premise, let's examine some points of Michael Ivie's:

>> 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."
I cannot but resist attempts to wield guidelines like the International 
Code of Zoological Nomenclature where they do not apply, and even out of 
context within the realm in which they do apply.

The phrase Michael quoted is from Code Article (if you want to 
test this rather than believe, go to 
http://www.iczn.org/iczn/index.jsp), but the quote is unduly short. The 
parts of Arts. 11.7.1 and that are relevant here read: "A 
family-group name when first published must ... be a noun in the 
nominative plural formed from the stem of an available generic name ... 
." The specific context and applicability of that stipulation concern 
what form a published name must have for it to be acceptable in 
principle as the basis for a newly available scientific family-group 
name. If, for example, an author published a new family-group name based 
on the genus name Gruppus, then a proposal such as 'sectio Gruppi' 
(Latin nominative plural) could be accepted - if all other criteria for 
availability are met - as having made available the family name 
Gruppidae. If, on the other hand, that author wrote 'sectio Gruppus', 
availability is ruled out by Art.

It seems quite obvious that this Code Article does not apply to any of 
the example usages that have been discussed in the present TAXACOM 
thread. The issue here is whether wording such as "Gruppidae is ..." is 
'correct' in any context, not whether the taxon name in such a statement 
can become available if an author combines it with verb forms in the 

Neither the above-quoted part of the nomenclature Code nor any other 
applies to, or concerns itself with, the issue this thread is 
discussing. Nor should it, because it does not affect the stability of 
zoological nomenclature, the highest goal the zoological Code attempts 
to promote (see the Code's Preamble) whether an author discussing 
matters of, e.g., phylogeny chooses to write "Gruppidae is ..." or 
"Gruppidae are ...".

And while we're at it - though this may be seen as opening yet another 
can of worms: Sentences like Mike's example

>> "The Tenebrionidae are widespread."
though (grammar-)formally correct should not be used where they 
misrepresent the biological facts. The form of the phrase 'The 
Tenebrionidae are' calls all constituents of the taxon to the mind of 
the reader, but certainly not all member taxa of Tenebrionidae have 
widespread distribution. Consequently, if asked to edit a manuscript 
containing wording like that, I would suggest to the author to change 
it, whereas I would read right over statements like "The family 
Tenebrionidae is widespread" or "Tenebrionidae is widespread" under 
appropriate circumstances.

If I may repeat myself: The real issues are
1) Whether the form of a statement properly reflects the facts and 
whether or not it involves significant danger of being misunderstood. 
The last two wordings in the preceding paragraph check positively here, 
the first one does not.
2) If criterion 1) is fulfilled, the freedom of responsible authors and 
editors to adapt nuances of wording to specifics of the content they 
intend to communicate, or to logistical circumstances (e.g. 
printing-space considerations).

>> NEVER "That Tenebrionidae is black."
As far as I can recall, not a single contribution to this thread has 
argued in favour of such wording.
We needn't fight chimeras, and - sorry Michael, but I sincerely 
congratulate everyone here who's solved all more pressing problems so 
that this thread's issue gets top priority to

>> be fought at every level in the sciences.
Never mind, and cheers

Martin Spies
c/o Zoologische Staatssammlung Muenchen

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