[Taxacom] Family names, usage.

Richard Zander Richard.Zander at mobot.org
Wed Feb 20 14:00:45 CST 2008

Shall we go round with Data? Datum is singular, yeah, but one might
sometimes mean "The data [set] is . . . " where understood is "set." I
wonder how often one can defend one's inadvertently emitted "data is" in
this way, though?

Richard H. Zander 
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-----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: Wednesday, February 20, 2008 1:36 PM
To: Spies, Martin; taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
Subject: Re: [Taxacom] Family names, usage.

I really do have important things to do, as no doubt does Martin, but 
this is such a good way to avoid them....

Spies, Martin wrote:

>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"?
Incorrect usage is not something to be simply accepted because people do

it.  I am very serious that just because I do it, does not make it 
correct.  Like adultery, knowing something is wrong when you do it is an

important part of understanding what you are doing.  I am not going to 
put someone in jail for it, but I insist that it be understood that it 
is not a good example.  I now hear full professors use data as a 
singular in seminars.  Using data as singular allows students to 
misunderstand just what data are. Once they think it is a thing, not a 
collection of things, it becomes a very different concept.   The same 
with family-group names.  Usage as a singular allows people to get it in

their head that a family is a single thing, not an assemblage of 
things.  Even if (as is unusual in current classificatons) the family is

totally monophyletic in every sense, it is still an assemblage of 
things, not a "thing."  Words are powerful in how we take them into our 
subconcious assumptions about what they represent.   If we are going to 
violate the rules, we should both know and admit that what we are doing 
is incorrect.  Like adultery, we may do it anyway because we prefer to, 
but deep down it is important to know its implications.  Most 
importantly to the dumbing down argument, we should never defend 
ourselves by claiming it is correct, and instead be clear that we just 
like it, and that idiomatically, it is understood, even though

This is what distinguishes us from George Bush, because he does not know

it is incorrect.

>>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
>technical publications) shows that not all of what's being done works
>any favor of the respective recipient, and some of it is needlessly 
But, they cared enough to respond, and in the specific case of 
correcting something that is even technically wrong, it is done in good 
faith (I am not refering to the reviewer comments that are vindictive, 
erroneous or otherwise not fitting the above situation).  As such, if 
you choose not to follow them, and successfully argue to the editor to 
use technically incorrect usage, you are still in their debt because 
they took the time to do their best to actually improve the paper.    It

is up to the editor to decide the validity of the argument, the reviewer

who raises a valid point is to be thanked either way.



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

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