[Taxacom] Family names, usage.

Spies, Martin spies at zi.biologie.uni-muenchen.de
Wed Feb 20 12:18:18 CST 2008

Michael A. Ivie wrote:

> I would like to point out that I myself am guilty of being "wrong" in 
> this usage of family-group names as plural.  I have actually caught 
> myself publishing this form, and in speech, which is sloppy in 
> America, I do it all the time.  This is not my point, I am simply 
> arguing what is grammatically correct is very clear

OK, but then what was yesterday's bit about, that this ">dumbing down< 
... should be fought at every level in the sciences"?

> listen to any American speak, and you will see we revel in being "wrong."

I don't think that's all or even necessarily most of what's to that 
phenomenon. How about Americans just making full use of opportunities 
the English language offers (more than some other languages) in the 
senses that
(A) You can vary relatively widely the form of what you're sending 
without jeopardizing that the recipient understands precisely the 
contents you intended to transmit.
(B) The way our senses often alert us to changes and oddities better 
than to uniformity, it can be quite productive in various ways 
(including plain old fun) to give the form of your message a twist from 
the 'rules', as long as getting its contents across doesn't suffer.

Fortunately, we are free to follow grammar rules - and, incidentally, 
those of nomenclature, too - voluntarily, not because any language or 
nomenclature police force us to do so. To a certain extent, as 
applicable to the respective subject, such rules should and do follow 
what a vast majority of people find works in practice, not vice versa.

For these reasons I've stressed here that the prime importance with a 
scientific message is on keeping the intended content unambiguously 
reproducible, not so much on whether the form fits the latest issue of 
any guideline. [There ARE limits to pushing the latter envelope, of 
course, e.g. where the stability of biological nomenclature could be 
compromised significantly.]

> When an editor or reviewer points out an error of any sort, they are 
> doing us a favor, not oppressing us, and should be thanked for their 
> efforts, even if we do not follow their advice.

Unfortunately, that's not true in all cases. Experience (in my case as 
an author, reviewer and editor of mostly English-language scientific and 
technical publications) shows that not all of what's being done works to 
any favor of the respective recipient, and some of it is needlessly 
restrictive. Like Michael above, though, I'm far from counting myself 
always on the 'right' side in this or other issues.

But, everyone, remember which side of the argument in this thread stands 
for "live and let live" (Thomas Lammers) and which may not (or isn't sure).


Martin Spies
c/o Zoologische Staatssammlung Muenchen

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