Language for taxonomic names, redux

Andy Mabbett andy at
Wed Feb 22 18:32:55 CET 2017

On 22 February 2017 at 14:30, Michael Everson <everson at> wrote:

> On 22 Feb 2017, at 11:18, Andy Mabbett <andy at> wrote:

>> I've set out several additional use-cases previously, including:

>>   * Selection for styling by CSS
> Styling? Just italic, right?

No. Taxonomic names /should/ be styled using italics. But an
individual publisher (or an individual reader, using a local CSS)
might choose to have them in, say red text on a yellow background.

>>> but the thing is so very few of these names would be found in an ordinary dictionary in any language that I don’t know how likely it is that this error occurs
>> The number of identified species was estimated, in or before 2011, as "between 1.4 and 1.8 million". The full number may be 100 million or higher. That's a lot of words, many of which (such as the genus "Circus" or the epithets "bicolor", "major" and "minor") have
>> (another) meaning in one or more languages.
> That’s not a half-dozen terms.

My examples were intended to be illustrate, not quantitative. There
are, though, well over a dozen species in the genus Circus:

and over 350 species using the epithet "minor":

> Might there be hundreds of such words? Thousands? >

> I doubt that English, French, German, or Japanese users pronounce “Eurema desjardinsii” in the same way.

Perhaps not; but they arguably should. And any difference is likely to
be down to accent, not language. I (a monolingual Englishman) have
been able to indicate birds and plants to a monolingual German, and
vice versa, using taxonomic names.

>> -taxon would satisfy that requirement, and its meaning should be clear and understandable internationally.

> I would judge that to be too obscure; “taxonomy” can refer to many schemes. Some other terms for this
> nomenclature are “binomen”, and “binomial name”, “binomial nomenclature”, “scientific name”, “Latin name”.
> As I said, I think -linnaeus would be much clearer.

"taxon" is not the same word as "taxonomy".  The former has a
distinct, specific, and internationally recognised meaning. Neither
“binomen”, and “binomial name” apply to higher ranks such as genus,
family or order. “Latin name” is colloquial, but is not formally

Andy Mabbett

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