[Taxacom] sensillum-sensilla-sensillae

Michael Heads michael.heads at yahoo.com
Thu Jul 30 18:36:38 CDT 2009

It's tricky - Merriam-Webster says it's a derived from the Mediaeval Latin sensus, sense organ, but diminutives keep the same gender as the original word (e.g. libellus from liber), in which case it should be neither sensilla nor sensillum but sensillus!  I suppose if you're a democrat you would use the most common form, sensillum, if you're a scientist wanting to support bold new hypotheses you would go with sensilla (fem.), but if you're a complete radical with anarchist tendencies you could start using sensillus. 
In fact it may be derived (less logically) from the term sensum, a sense-datum, as used in post-classical philosophy, so it would be sensillum.  I don't see any logical derivation for sensilla (fem. sing.) unless it's just a made-up word.  
Michael Heads

Wellington, New Zealand.

My papers on biogeography are at: http://tiny.cc/RiUE0

--- On Thu, 7/30/09, John Noyes <j.noyes at nhm.ac.uk> wrote:

From: John Noyes <j.noyes at nhm.ac.uk>
Subject: [Taxacom] sensillum-sensilla-sensillae
To: taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
Date: Thursday, July 30, 2009, 11:27 PM

Dear taxacomers,

Does anyone out there know anything of the origin/derivation of the term
"sensilla" as used in insects to describe sensory organs on the antenna,
legs, etc. I have been trying to determine which latin declension it
should follow. To my knowledge the term was first coined in the mid to
late 19th century, possibly by J.O. Westwood, but I cannot trace it. My
reason for asking is that it would be nice to iron out the problem of
what really should be the singular and plural forms of the noun. I
remember a colleague of mine trying to trace it and came to the
conclusion that it could be either sensillum/sensilla or
sensilla/sensillae (singular/plural) because the person who first used
the term used only sensilla without stating whether this was singular or

In the literature both forms are used with the majority opting for
sensillum/sensilla whilst the minority (including myself because I was
brought up on it) use sensilla/sensillae.

Any help or thoughts appreciated.


John Noyes

Scientific Associate

Department of Entomology

Natural History Museum

Cromwell Road

South Kensington

London SW7 5BD 


jsn at nhm.ac.uk

Tel.: +44 (0) 207 942 5594

Fax.: +44 (0) 207 942 5229

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