[Taxacom] Goddess Changes Sex, or the Gender Game

Evangelos Vlachos evlacho at gmail.com
Sun Oct 21 18:27:01 CDT 2018


Although in danger of starting a long thread here, I would like to offer my
two cents. You raise an important and recurring issue with the Code, and I
do not see that anyone has answered.

Please keep reading if you are interested in gender agreement and
especially if any of you is a fan of the Game of Thrones and the World of
Ice and Fire and GRR Martin; I promise it will be a funnier email than you
would expect. Sorry for the long email, and also keep in mind that I will
be fully honest and open with my feelings and thoughts and thank you for
your understanding.

Some background: I am Greek, a paleontologist, I am young, and I have a
genuine interest on the Code. But, of course, I have been many times wrong
when I tried to apply the Code and sometimes even when it comes to using my
own "native" language (in spellings and even in gender agreement). Because,
even though not many are aware of this, sensu the ICZN, Greek actually
means "Ancient Greek", and believe it or not (although there are some
similarities) ancient Greek is *quite *different from modern Greek. Even
though I can understand the meaning of most Greek-based names immediately,
I need to continually check an ancient Greek dictionary to avoid mistakes.
I could spell and read an ancient Greek tablet, but I would not necessarily
understand it.

As such, even in my short career, I have not avoided making mistakes with
the gender agreement, either in new names I formed or in other more general
works. And, of course, I feel quite ashamed... I suppose that you should
expect me to be quite proficient with ancient Greek. To the contrary, I am
as proficient the average speaker of modern Latin-based languages is with
Ancient Latin.

I totally understand the point made by Dr. Grehan, and I know of many
colleagues who feel the same; I am even tempted to think the same myself
sometimes.

But recently something happened that made me understand something
important: names based on adjectives or participles [...] *must *agree in
gender.

In one of my "side projects" that always try to have something scientific,
I created the zoological nomenclature of the World of Ice and Fire, the
fantasy world created by GRR Martin decades ago and a big thing in the last
decade with the TV adaptation of the books (Game of Thrones). I named most
of the animals in this imaginary world. Do not worry, those names are
purely imaginary concepts of the World of Ice and Fire (or Planetos) are
also written in the High Valyrian language (a fictional language created by
the author and the linguist David Peterson), all published in a way that
does not meet the requirements of the Code; so we speak about a bunch of
names that are excluded from the zoological nomenclature. This was an
attempt to promote nomenclature to a broader audience, but it was mostly
quite fun.

I had the privilege to submit this to the *Journal of Geek Studies *(the
editor is a member of this list) and an even bigger privilege to approach
David Peterson himself (the creator of the High Valyrian and Dothraki
languages) to review the manuscript.

In general, he was quite fond of the result, but could not understand why
there was no gender agreement between the names! He was kind enough to
explain the rules to me and correct everything, but I could sense his
frustration... I am sure that the names that took me months to compose
appeared as monstrosities to him! Like I am butchering the language he
created... I, of course, corrected everything. This was a tough task
because High Valyrian has *four *genders that are not masculine/feminine
(solar, lunar, terrestrial, aquatic).

That example only tells us, that even if we had to start again (and who
knows, even to choose another language or even to hire Peterson himself to
make a language only for us, just for nomenclature), most probably there
would have to be a gender agreement. This is not a rule of the Code, but
rather a rule of the language used in the Code (well, we could ask him to
create a language without genders).

So, if the purpose of coining names is to communicate science through
language, the language must be used correctly; otherwise, the communication
fails. If we want to use Latin and ancient Greek to coin names, there must
be gender agreement, as there must be the letters of the alphabet.

I know, it is difficult for all and even for me. And, believe me, it is so
frustrating to read somewhere of the mistakes I made with my,
kind-of-native-language (again, very few Greeks today are competent in
Ancient Greek). Not because that author discovered my error (this is good),
but because it makes me hate myself... But at least, those changes
regarding gender agreement are only mandatory changes.

In another way, gender agreement (as I understand it) it is like the
autocorrect function in our mobile phones or Google. If the Code was a
machine, you would write *Testudo giganteus *and would change it
automatically to *Testudo gigantea, *like in Microsoft Word. Until that day
comes, this "autocorrect function" is made by zoologists. That is why those
changes are mandatory, and those names do not have new authorship.

(Personally) Each mistake I make with the Code it makes me furious, but I
then try to think that is perhaps better to train myself harder with the
Code than to try to change the Code or to remove the parts are difficult
for me to employ. And I hope one day to be able to understand the Code and
use it properly. In this particular case with gender agreement, *it is me
who is wrong, not the Code*.

That does not mean, of course, that the Code does not need changes. Just
not with gender agreement. And at least in one part of this scientific
world, it is re-assuring that genders *must agree*.

Thanks for staying with me in this email, and I welcome all the criticism
it will attract.

Kind regards,

Evan Vlachos



On Sat, 20 Oct 2018 at 12:23, John Grehan <calabar.john at gmail.com> wrote:

> In reference to some brief discussion of gender rules in taxonomy I have
> appended below the text from an article on the subject that may be of
> passing interest. First published just over 50 years ago and seems to be
> still relevant today. Any mistyping my responsibility.
>
> John Grehan
>
> Goddess Changes Sex, or the Gender Game
>
> John R. G. Turner
>
> Systematic Zoology, Vol. 16, No. 4 (Dec., 1967), pp. 349-350
>
> In his recent criticism of the gender rule in zoological nomenclature,
> Moore (1966) discusses the difficulty of deciding on the gender of a genus:
> he does not mention a problem that I have found most teasing – discovering
> whether a specific name is substantive, and therefore invariant, or
> adjectival, and therefore with a variable ending. It may be reasonable to
> expect zoologists to manage  -*us, -a, -um* endings and the more awake ones
> to manage  *-is, -is, -e,* but they can hardly be expected to have an
> extensive knowledge of Latin and Greek adjectives, much less of classical
> mythology. The sneaking pleasure that I, and perhaps others, derive from
> exercising scholastic pedantry, thereby feeling in touch with the great
> stream of Western Culture, hardly compensates for the time spent hunting
> through Latin and Greek dictionaries.
>
> In working on the evolution of the South American butterfly genus
> *Heliconius* (e.g. Turner, 1965) I have had to sort out some of its very
> tangled systematics and nomenclature. The trouble is that there is a
> tradition going right back to Linnaeus of giving the species the names of
> nymphs and muses (*Heliconius* = dweller on Mount Helicon), so that one has
> a masculine genus with a feminine species; moreover, there was at one time
> a feminine genus *Heliconia*, now in synonymy, with which some of the
> adjectival names agreed. As classical names ran out, systematists named the
> butterflies after their wives, rivers with classical-sounding names, saints
> and opera-heroines; one needs to know not only mythology, but biogeography,
> geography, hagiography, and musicology.
>
> Understandably, systematists have changed endings that should have
> remained, and unable to master the many names of Venus and all the other
> ladies, have come up with *cytherus, veustus *(“Scandal in temple. Vestal
> Virgins say *We are just good friends*”), *eulalius, egerius, antigonus,
> lucius* and so on. Now these are deliberate emendations, and under the
> *Code
> *are strictly junior synonyms, to be taken into account in future
> revisions. In addition to these very clear cases, there are some that are
> almost impossible to decide, at least without consulting a classicist. Did
> Linnaeus intend *charitonia*, frequently rendered *charitonius* (from
> *Charites*, the Graces), to be an artificial noun or an adjective, and if
> the latter, why did he not make it agree with its genus (*Papilio* at that
> time)? Did Cramer intend *numata* to be some obscure nymph (an appellation
> of Egeria perhaps, who taught the mythical Numa), or did he just mis-spell
> *nummata* (=wealthy); and again, why did it not agree? (See also Turner,
> 1967.)
>
> The gender rule not only promotes instability of names which are
> adjectival, it wastes much time in deciding difficult cases, and when a
> hard-worked zoologist does not notice that the name is substantive, results
> in an unnecessary synonym. Surely, the only sensible thing to do is retain
> the original spelling of all names (Barring misprints), even as far as the
> termination.
>
> John R.G. Turner
> Department of Biology
> University of York,
> York, England
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