Dear Sir:

Just a couple of SIC!s from Vol. 24 No. 1.

1. In the article “The Last Pibroch”, the author writes of clan chiefs memorizing a few words of Gaelic “to impress visiting dignatories.” Is this the Gaelic for “dignitaries”?

2. Concerning Odet’s use of the word “fluxionary.” My comment has to do with the opening sentence, in which “Odet’s (1906-1963) confided to his friend Philip Lottman . . . ” I was waiting to find out what he confided to Philip, but it never came. Not in that sentence anyway. I feel that actually Odets confided in Lottman.

Press on, regardless!

Israel Wilenitz
New York, N.Y.

“Dignatories” is scanner for “dignitaries”, an error the Editor should have caught!

Dear Ms. McKean:

In the beginning may have been the word, but it clearly did not include the letter. I share with you and other lexicophiles a tale of a dictionary war that occurred in the late 20th century. Is it coincidental that when buying both the OED and DARE that I ran into problems? Certainly it has been an entertaining challenge. While James Murray may have been a brilliant intellectual and consummate organizer, his ability hasn’t filtered down to present-day distributors of his work and its descendants.

Several years ago I ordered the twenty-volume OED. During my extended purchase OUP never did spell my last name correctly, nor correct my street address from North California to West California. Better yet, after placing my order, despite the color-coded cartons, I received 2 sets of volumes 5-8, and no set of volumes 9-12. After reporting the problem, I received volumes 15-18. Why those? I suspect shipping converted my request to replace “vol 5 — vol 8” to: ship “vo 15 — vo 18” It took several phone calls and mis-shipments to correct the problem.

Recently my husband bought all three volumes of DARE. With the good prices and promises of efficient delivery, he ordered them through Amazon.Com. We received two Volume Twos’s and one Volume Three. Several phone calss and e-mails later, another Volume Two arrived. Apparently two strikes and you’re out at Amazon.Com. Unlike Oxford, they abandoned all attempts to correct the problem, leaving us with volumes Two and Three only.

A click and point later, we had placed an order for Volume One with BarnesandNoble.Com. Soon after, Volume Two arrived. Although the B&N Web site indicates Volume One is in stock, someone who reads letters and alphabets must have checked the shelf after our complaint. Our order is now on indefinite hold with no complete set of DARE in sight.

Oh, for the days when One meant One, and someone knew the difference between ‘A to C’ and ‘D to H.’ Is it possible to order from Frederic Cassidy directly?


Elizabeth R. Cardman
Urbana, Illinois

As a long-time subscriber to Verbatim, I am very pleased that it is being published again.

Enclosed is a bit of doggerel which you may or may not wish to use.

Needless to say, I am a “word nut”!

Marjorie Collins

Boulder, Colorado

“Criterion” is but one,
“Criteria” are more;
To put me in a tiz
Just say “Criteria is”.

“Phenomenon” is one
“Phenomena” are more.
It makes me have a spaz
To hear “Phenomena has”!

“The medium” is but one,
“The media” are more;
To make my temper fizz
Just use “The media is”.

The latest in a string
Of misused plu. or sing.
Was seen just recently:
It was “The Magis three”.

A “Magus” is one king;
“Magi” is two or three.
Please-let me criticize
The advent of “Magis”.

Margorie Collins
October 1998

Dear Editor:

As one who has been rather deeply involved in the official work of botanical nomenclature for over 30 years, including editing of the International Code of Botanical Nomenclature, I commend your editorial wisdom in publishing three short articles relating to this topic in the Winter 1999 number. However, I must note that these needed a little external editorial review and/or proofreading.

Linnaeus was ennobled in 1761, but the Swedish Parliament made that retroactive to 1757, the date cited by Dr. Blau, who is to be praised for nothing that the noble title chosen by the great naturalist was “von LinnĂ©,” whereas his family name was always linnaeus and that is the name he himself mostly continued to use. too many writers have the story reversed [i.e., saying that LinnĂ© became Linnaeus].

The binomial system of nomenclature was introduced by Linnaeus in 1753 in the first edition of Species Plantarum, which continues to be the official starting point for the nomenclature of plants. In 1758, he first employed that system for animals in the 10th edition of his Systema Naturae, which is similarly the starting point for zoological nomenclature. Ther are more up-to-date editons of the offical nomenclature codes than those cited by Holmes-Moss. The latest revision of the International Code of Botanical Nomenclature was published in 1994 and the next is expected in 2000 (they now appear at 6-year intervals). The International Code of Nomenclature for Cultivated Plants was last revised in 1995; it defers to the botanical code in all matters relating to the scientific names of species [“binomials” or binary names] and higher ranks, but governs the use of special names for horticultural variants. (A new edition of the zoological code is expected any day.) Botanists (more than zoologists) are zealous in recognizing that the two-word scientific name of a species does not consist of two names, but two terms. The first word is the name of the genus and that can stand alone. The second word cannot stand alone to refer to a kind of plant; it is often an adjective, modifying the generic name, but sometimes it is a noun in apposition. In any event, that specific epithet (such as canadensis, alba, officianale) is only part of a name and botanists never refer to a binomen or binomial when referring to the single two-word name of a species.

Linnaeus’ account of his travels in Lappland cited by Holmes-Moss as Lachesis Lapponica is, incidentally, not the same as the Flora Lapponica [misspelled Iapponica] in the previous article. the travelog (as opposed to the flora) was called, in manuscript and in later printings, Iter Lapponica. Its 1811 publication by the Linnean [not “Linnaeun”] Society was not a very well done translation of the manuscript; there are better later ones.

The topic of plants named for people is indeed a fascinating one, but as you might imagine, the genus to which tobacco belongs, Nicotiana, was named for Jean Nicot (a French ambassador to Portugal in the 16th century), not “Nicol.” And the American “gentleman” for whom Clintonia was named was in fact the statesman and longtime Governor of the state of New York, De Witt Clinton.

I hope her tongue was in her cheek when Pamela Howarth asked why people “persist in calling every plant and flower by its Latin name?” The answer is absurdly simple: (1) because Latin is a dead and hence unchanging language as well as one no longer spoken by people whose language might be considered politically inappropriate in other nations; (2) because there are internationally agreed-upon rules for providing Latin names for organisms in order to avoid confusion beyond provincial boundaries. If, for example, she really wants to know why it “woudn’t be better to stick to English and call them cabbages” rather than brassicas, I will offer a few very good reasons: (1) Not all brassicas are cabbages. Brassica is a generic name and also included mustards, turnips, and some other plants. Furthermore, even the species Brassica oleracea includes not only cabbage but also broccoli, cauliflower, kale, Brussels sprouts and other things. (2) “Cabbage” is not the name of a plant in German, French, Chinese, Russian, Urdu, or any language (or alphabet) other than English. Latin scientific names are universal across all languages and cultures. The whole point is precision in reference whether communicating with others or retrieving information from the past. (3) Even in English, the same common name may be applied to to different plants in different regions, and conversely, and one kind of plant may have several common names, for which there are obviously no international rules since they are, by definition, provincial, vernacular names in common use. Of course if one is talking with one’s children (who usually communicate more or less in the same language!) or others strictly for local use, that’s what common names are for. But let’s remember that these are “nicknames” and the real names are those allegedly complicated names like Rhododendron, Iris, Rosa, Viola, Spiraea. And let’s remember, too, that all names of genera hence binomials for species begin with a capital letter: Bellis, Primula. People who shrivel up at the thought of scientific names usually would not expect their surgeon, pharmacist, auto mechanic, or computer serviceman to avoid polysyllabic words and use only “common” terms appropriate to Elizabethan England. So far as I know, no one has attempted to insert scientific names into Hamlet–but I’ll bet that translations of Shakespeare into other languages don’t use “columbine” or “pansy” (or “heartease” or “Johnny-jump-up”) either.


Edward G. Voss
Curator and Professor Emeritus
University of Michigan Herbarium
Ann Arbor, Michigan