9/30/2006

I don't italicize botanical names.

It's a big pet peeve of mine.

Norman Deno explains it:

"At the time of Linnaeus, academic institutions still clung to Latin as an emblem of intellectualism. This is now archaic. A name like Eranthis hyemalis is an internationally recognized name for a plant and belongs to no specific language. It is not a foreign word, and it is specifically not a Latin word, so to italicize it is grammatically incorrect."*

Thank you! Botanical names are Latin-ized!

(All emphases are mine.)

*Deno, Norman C. Seed Germination Theory and Practice, 2nd ed. State College, PA (1993).

1 comment:

mmw said...

Somehow I missed this at the time, and I have to respond.

Latin was not an "emblem" of anything at the time of Linnaeus, it was the language of scientific discourse. This is also archaic (although as recently as 40 years ago botanists were still writing the keys of their monographs in Latin), but I fail to see why that matters.

Botanical names are both "internationally recognized" and Latin (the former, of course, because of the latter, originally) -- but that is not why they are italicized. They are italicized as part of a convention so profound it is not even named in the ICBN. It is an an arbitrary convention, just like that for, say, naming genes (also italic, and very much not in a foreign language), but so what? Italics in general are much more arbitrary than people like Deno seem to realize -- check out the Chicago Manual of style if you don't believe me.

Much more absurd is the ICBN's reject of any name that predates Linnaeus, if you ask me.