[Taxacom] Family names are plural. Period
Michael A. Ivie
mivie at montana.edu
Wed Feb 20 10:47:01 CST 2008
Spies, Martin wrote [edited by MAI to save space for just those parts
>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.
I agree, and will show below why this is best served by being
>On that premise, let's examine some points of Michael Ivie's:
>The phrase Michael quoted is from Code Article 22.214.171.124 ...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 ...
This does not change anything -- how the word is formed is simply an
explanation of why it is, in fact, a nominative plural. Nothing in the
context changes the fact that the word is a plural. If it is not a
plural, it is not valid, /ipso facto/, it is a plural.
> 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
Actually, this is the source of the problem with why people misuse
family group names as singular -- not using the word in a proper form.
The family-group is a whole, made up of parts that TOGETHER constitute
the family-group. An individual belongs to a family, it is never THE
family. Therefore, to interpret the phrase given above as Martin has is
incorrect. It should not call the constituents to mind, but the whole
itself. *It is analogous to "the Ivie's are spread all over the western
USA." No one would look at that usage of a family-group name (my
personal family) and think each of us was spread all over the west, but
would understand correctly that mapping all the members of my family
would yield a distribution that encompasses that area. *For Martin's
intended meaning in the phrase he quotes above to be correct as he
wishes it to be interpreted, a modifier must be added such as "Each
species of the Tenebrionidae is [not] widespread." This would be
required for both clarity and correctness, and yields a totally
different meaning than what I actually wrote originally. Therefore, the
statement "The Tenebrionidae are widespread" correctly refers to the
whole, not any single part, and is correct as given. If someone uses it
in the way Martin sets up his phrase, they are simply misusing the
family-group name. The correct usage there is "This particular species
of Tenebrionidae IS [not] widespread. In this case, the verb agrees
with "This particular species" not "Tenebrionidae" and the former is
singular. The other use could be "This tenebrionid is [not] widespread.
>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.
Not correct, see above.
>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.
Criterion 1 has now been refuted, rendering 2) irrelevant.
>>>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.
But I have seen it used in print -- and by native English speakers. It
was included simply for completeness of the example.
NOTE NEW ADDRESS (As of 01/01/2007 DO NOT USE OLD P.O. BOX ADDRESS):
Michael A. Ivie, Ph.D., F.R.E.S.
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