At this past spring’s Missouri Native Plant Society Spring Field Trip, I was asked if I would be interested in writing an article for an upcoming issue of the Society’s newsletter, Petal Pusher. The planned theme for the issue was Latin and scientific nomenclature, though I was free to choose the precise subject. Being much more of an entomologist than I am a botanist, I was honored, and being a bit of a pedant, I knew exactly what I wanted to write about—the title of this post serving as an obvious clue.
Now, I don’t claim to have any special expertise in pronunciation of latinized nomenclature—in fact, I’ve never taken a single course in Latin. Nevertheless, I’ve probably studied and mulled over the subject a bit more than most, and age likely has also given me a bit of perspective on balancing adherence to “rules” (to the extent that they exist) and ease of use.
In that spirit, I offer the following article, which was just published in the newly-released July–August issue. It’s a light-hearted and (hopefully) fun read intended to provide readers with tips for making pronunciation of scientific names a little bit easier and a lot less intimidating. I’ll let you be the judge on whether I accomplished that goal.
p.s. The subtitle of the article is a nod to James Trager, who contributed another article in the issue dealing with the origin and use of Latin in botanical nomenclature… while explicitly side-stepping the question of pronunciation!
©️ Ted C. MacRae 2022
4 thoughts on ““Let’s talk about pronunciation of scientific names””
I was smiling very quickly as I read your post. Already in your second sentence we have “nomenclature”. No MEN clature? Or nomen CLA ture? 😏 Which side of the pond are we on?
It also brought to mind my latest bugaboo: the covid variant, omicron. I thought it was my science inculcation the caused me to say oMYcron, not OHmacron. You’re a product of the sciences – which way do you say it?
I just love your narratives about the plants and insects you find on your travels. Keep ‘em coming. Thanks for sharing. – Peggy
Cute article. One point to consider is how much Latin has changed for our usage. All available evidence shows that in Latin the letter “c” was always a hard consonant (like “k”), never soft. Thus, “science” should probably be pronounced “skienke”, and “cephalon” should be “skephalon”. Language and its evolution can be fun to follow.
Thanks, Ted; much food for thought here. I appreciate your insight.
Well done Ted.
As a botanist, the current debate on the use and pronunciation of scientific names drives me insane! I find the variation in common names totally frustrating. Let’s not even start to discuss the format of scientific names………