[Taxacom] exuvia versus exuvium

Doug Yanega dyanega at ucr.edu
Fri Jun 6 15:46:40 CDT 2008

What is interesting is that the "authoritative" sources are 
inconsistent, but it seems to follow a timeline.

To wit:

Joe Kirkbride wrote (matching Torre-Bueno):

>Leverett, F. P. 1842. A new and copious Lexicon of the Latin Language.
>J. H. Wilkins & R. B. Carter, Boston.
>EXUVIAE (exuo), arum, f. clothes or any thing else appertaining to the
>body, put off or left, or laid aside, {Greek word}. It is never used in
>the sing.

That's two old sources that say never singular.

Paul Johnson wrote (matching Brown 1956):

>As to a reference, Fred Stehr (Immature Insects, vol. 1, p. 714) 
>used  the following:
>"Exuvia(-ae).  The cast skin.  In Latin "exuviae" means clothes, 
>booty, spoils of war.  There was (is) no singular, but "exuvia" is 
>the  correct derived singular.  "Exuvium" is not a correct singular 

That's two newer sources that accept a singular form ("exuvia").

and Darren J. Mann wrote:

>From the Oxford English Dictionary
>  exuviae, n. pl. 
>  c. Also in sing. in the form exuvium (the reconstructed L. fem. 
>sing. exuvia being reinterpreted as neut. pl.), and in pl. as exuvia.

and one reference I looked up myself is Grimaldi & Engel's 2005 
"Evolution of the Insects" textbook, in which the glossary lists 

That's two very recent sources that accept "exuvium" as a singular form.

Clearly, the English language evolves. What is technically 
unacceptable in one decade can change to become acceptable in later 
decades (and, sometimes, the reverse). What can be said in this case 
is that THERE IS NO CONSENSUS. In 1842, only one was acceptable. By 
1956, two terms - the original plural and a singular form - were in 
use, and acceptable. All three terms (exuviae, exuvia, and exuvium), 
are in use NOW, though they were not in 1842, or even 1956, and 
considered to be acceptable NOW even if the latter two are not 
technically correct. While I find strict adherence to the rules to be 
impossible to justify ("I found an exuviae"), I will at least admit 
that "exuvium" is the less acceptable permutation if the term is to 
be re-cast in a singular form (as indicated by Brown). For my own 
part, then, I'll use "exuvia" from now on, because if I'm going to be 
incorrect, I'd at least prefer to be incorrect in a grammatically 
correct way. ;-)

Nonetheless, it appears that the use of "exuvium" as singular and 
"exuvia" as plural is probably here to stay, and 20 years from now 
might even be the sole remaining usage. It's a safe bet that it's out 
of our hands...

Peace, and thanks to those who responded,

Doug Yanega        Dept. of Entomology         Entomology Research Museum
Univ. of California, Riverside, CA 92521-0314        skype: dyanega
phone: (951) 827-4315 (standard disclaimer: opinions are mine, not UCR's)
   "There are some enterprises in which a careful disorderliness
         is the true method" - Herman Melville, Moby Dick, Chap. 82

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