[Taxacom] key for ICZN Article 31.2 (was key for ICZN Article 45.6)

Doug Yanega dyanega at ucr.edu
Thu Sep 27 16:59:33 CDT 2012

>If you're willing to share, I would be interested in your key to
>determining whether a specific epithet is adjectival or not.  I didn't
>know it was possible to make a key for that.

Not in the literal sense, but in terms of making the proper course of 
action clear. People seem to find Art. 31.2 to be subject to more 
interpretation than is intended, and more subject to the desires of 
the original authors, as well. Read all the clauses of Article 31.2 
carefully, and you'll see that only in 31.2.2 does the word "author" 
appear. Even then, "adjectival use" of a word that is not an 
adjective does not MAKE it an adjective. The author's usage only 
matters when a name was *actually* used as either a noun or an 
adjective in Latin/Greek. Show proof that a given name, spelled 
*exactly* as it is in the species name, was used by Latin or Greek 
authors as an adjective, if you want to claim it *is* an adjective. 
PROOF, using a standard lexicon - otherwise, the spelling cannot be 

The wording of this Code Article is very precise, for a reason - in 
this case, specifically to nullify situations where the 
interpretations of the readers, or the intentions of the authors, 
either do not comply strictly with Latin/Greek rules, or are even 
marginally ambiguous. I agree, it can be difficult to get past the 
wording to the essence of the matter, but I made a sort of "flow 
chart", for which only yes or no answers are allowed, and which guide 
the reader directly to the single Code-compliant resolution for any 
given name under Article 31.2:

(1) Using only a lexicon for guidance, is the epithet *unambiguously* 
a Latin or Latinized adjective or participle in the nominative 
singular? YES - then it will always change to match the gender of the 
genus (Art. 31.2).
NO - then

(2) Is the epithet *unambiguously* a noun or noun phrase (simple, 
compound, genitive), either appearing in a Latin/Greek lexicon, or by 
explicit indication of the author (e.g., "I declare this to be a noun 
in apposition")? YES - then it never changes (Art. 31.2.1).
NO - then

(3) Is the epithet demonstrably a word from Latin/Greek which exists 
both as a noun and as an adjective? NO - then it never changes (Art. 
YES - then

(4) Did the author use the name in a form which can only be 
interpreted as an adjective, explicitly in that it does not 
correspond to any known forms of the noun? YES - then it changes.
NO - then it never changes (Art 31.2.2).

These are arranged in basically the logical sequence used in the 
Code. Personally, I would invert this tree somewhat, and have any 
epithet that is neither demonstrably Latin/Greek nor properly 
Latinized (e.g., consider the epithets "ochraea" or ""wisconsina") 
removed *in the first step*. That would take all the really ambiguous 
names out of contention automatically, and make them indeclinable, 
without even bothering to ask the other questions. The unfortunate 
thing about this Article is that it relies upon external sources of 
evidence, which may vary in their quality and thoroughness (so 
different readers may come to different conclusions). It is also 
unfortunate that a fair number of names which look like they are 
adjectives are - if you look them up - actually nouns, despite that 
people have been treating them as adjectives for decades (so if you 
enforce the Code, it annoys people familiar with the 
incorrectly-spelled version). In part to prevent this from prompting 
yet another series of comments calling for the abolition of gender 
agreement, I will point out that taxonomists can potentially prevent 
such problems in perpetuity by compiling a List under the provisions 
of Article 79, in which they can *arbitrarily* declare the gender of 
genera to be whatever they like, and/or declare species epithets to 
be adjectives (or not), regardless of whether it reflects proper 
Latin/Greek grammar. This would allow people to continue the practice 
of gender agreement without ever having to *argue* about any names on 
that List, or forcing anyone to do any *research* beyond just reading 
what it says in the List (e.g., "It says here that trochilus is a 
noun."). There are ways to simplify and demystify nomenclature that 
don't require wholesale abandonment of gender agreement.


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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