[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 
being argued]:

>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 
grammatically correct.

>On that premise, let's examine some points of Michael Ivie's:
>The phrase Michael quoted is from Code Article ...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 
>appropriate circumstances.
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. 
>printing-space considerations).
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.



Michael A. Ivie, Ph.D., F.R.E.S.

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