Botanical Latin -- *Poof*

Originally posted on Agritate, which is no longer active.

I guess I have a thing for botanical taxonomy, eh?

I’m a week or so behind on this, but I had a wonderful holiday vacation, so I don’t mind missing the hooplah. I’ve run across a number of articles talking about the doing away of Latin in botanical naming conventions (example)—at first, my ire was raised when the first reference to it I saw almost implied that plant names would no longer be in “Latin” (and, of course, not all of them are—some are Greek! And then, some are awkward mishmashes of the two languages.). But then I dug a bit deeper and found that it was the long, intricate Latinized descriptions of a new species that’s being done away with.

This text is from the description of Achimenes hintoniana, described in 2002 by Larry Skog, a plant-club friend here in DC.

I guess I get scuttling a complicated (yet utterly formulaic) paragraph that serves only to frustrate botanists and hobbyists. I mean, of course Latin (and Greek!) is important to botanists, especially botanical taxonomists and taxonomists in general. But so few people choose to study ancient languages nowadays. Personally, I found Latin and ancient Greek translation to be a wonderful complement to my botanical and microbiological studies—but I was only one of two such students pursuing these courses at my university, and the other graduated in my first year.

I can’t really choose which camp to align myself with—I understand the move to English for taxonomical descriptions of new species (although I could have used the extra income freelance translating descriptions into Latin, I guess). But I can’t help but feel that the field is losing something by not encouraging botanists’ education in Latin (and ancient Greek).

Then again, maybe I support having everyone study those languages. Why should Christians have all the fun?

Hat tip to New York Botanical Garden Tumblr blog for the heads up on this topic.

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