[Taxacom] Family names are plural. Period

Dick Jensen rjensen at saintmarys.edu
Wed Feb 20 19:01:10 CST 2008


As my final word on this, I don't care what the nature of a word is (singular or plural, Latin or German or English), it is common in English usage to treat collectives as singular when refering to all members of the group as a single entity.  Despite the quibble with my example of "Los Angeles are a city," I will close by noting that "The Unites States of America is a member of the U.N. Security Council."

Cheers,

Dick J

Richard Jensen, Professor
Department of Biology
Saint Mary's College
Notre Dame, IN 46556

tel: 574-284-4674

----- Original Message -----
From: Richard Pyle <deepreef at bishopmuseum.org>
To: 'Michael A. Ivie' <mivie at montana.edu>, Martin' 'Spies <spies at zi.biologie.uni-muenchen.de>
Cc: taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
Sent: Wed, 20 Feb 2008 19:43:57 -0500 (EST)
Subject: Re: [Taxacom] Family names are plural.  Period


Ugghh.... 

Michael A. Ivie Wrote:

> 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.

I agree with this statement, and I also agree with your earlier statement:
"Rewrite the sentence to be correctly formed, and you have solved the
problem."

However....

> 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.  

And later:

> 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."  

Lingusitics aside, this same argument of logic applies to all taxonomic
levels; and indeed to *all* "things" (species are collections of individual
organisms; individual organisms are collections of cells, which themselves
change over the life of the organism; cells are collections of molecules;
molecules are collections of atoms; atoms are collections of subatomic
particles; etc.).

So...Centropyge nahackyi *are* endemic to Johnston Atoll?   Hmmmm....

If a species can be treated as a collective singular "unit", I see no reason
why a family cannot also be treated as such (the Linnaean family-group name
in this case serving as a label to a collective thing, more than as a plural
noun).

But again, the answer is not to force the issue through awful-sounding but
gramitically correct (or great-sounding but gramattically incorrect)
sentences; the answer, as you said before, is to write the sentence in a way
that avoids the potential ambiguities (and dissonance) altogether.

> 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.

What's wrong with the sentence "The Ivie family is spread all over the
western USA.", and how is this different from "The family Tenebrionidae is
widespread."?  In both cases, the subject of the sentence ("family") is
singular (collective though it may be), and properly treated as such (at
least from my perspective).

Incidentally, it seems that my prediciton was correct:

"I don't think the grammar police will come down too hard on me when I say,
'Hopefully, this thread will come to an end soon.'"

Indeed, no grammar police have yet cited me for my transgression. Perhaps I
am unusual in that my PhD Advisor/Mentor (a well-respected taxonomist; and
hence relevant to this email forum) instilled in me an appreciation for the
fact that "Hopefully" is an adverb, and hence should be used to modify a
verb, adjective, or other adverb.

Thus: "It is my hope that this thread will come to an end soon."

Or, "'This thread will come to an end soon,' he said hopefully."

Aloha,
Rich




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