Posts Tagged ‘scientific names’

Of names, knowledge..and showing off

April 26, 2020

What the scientific, erudite types have to realize: When an Ordinary Person sees a beautiful grasshopper, s/he is quite interested.

But if told that it is a Cyrtacanthacris tatarica tatarica, and that the classification is Animalia > Arthropoda > Insecta > Orthoptera > Acridoidea > Acrididae > Cyrtacanthacridinae > Cyrtacanthacris > Cyrtacanthacris tatarica (Linnaeus, 1758) > Cyrtacanthacris tatarica tatarica (Linnaeus, 1758), s/he would 1) be totally zapped and bewildered, 2) lose interest.

Of course, a side effect would be 3) being very impressed by the person who is giving that information…which may have actually been just gleaned off the Internet (as I did.) This whole thing of having ids in a long-dead language and translating that Latin (and Greek) in a suitably pseudo-friendly, condescending way to These Lesser Mortals is something I find many scientists (and pseudo scientists from WhatsApp University) guilty of.

And it’s true of every field of human endeavour. I appear much more knowledgeable if, instead of saying, “enjoy this rAgam”, I say, “listen to the prayOgams of Podalangapriya”; more learned-sounding if, instead of “enjoy the rocky landscape”, I say, “Look at the mixture of metaingenious rock and the patterns of the earlyite (not the laterite)”; instead of “Look at how beautiful that fish-shaped cloud is”, I say, “Columbusnimbu clouds take on so many interesting forms”..and so it goes. Not you, of course, and never me…but Those Others…!

More on scientific names…

June 11, 2013

I do understand the need for scientific names, but I also must add the caveat that they are not required by everyone; some of us ambling-along nature-lovers find some scientific names very off-putting indeed. How interesting it is, to tell a group of children, “See the Spittle-bugs!

spittle bug photo IMG_3470.jpg

Can you see how that froth protects the larvae?” rather than saying:

“The froghoppers, or the superfamily Cercopoidea, are a group of Hemipteran insects, in the suborder Auchenorrhyncha. Traditionally, most of this superfamily was considered a single family, Cercopidae, but this family has been split into three separate families for many years now: the Aphrophoridae, Cercopidae, and Clastopteridae. More recently, the family Epipygidae has been removed from the Aphrophoridae.”

If I spout that paragraph at a group of children or adults whom I am taking on a nature trail, they will disappear faster than the dew on the grass…or the froth on it! The only Superfamily many children would be interested in would be from the movie “The Incredibles”!

Names, knowledge, and elitism

June 5, 2013

I tend to notice an elitism about Knowing Names. I start out by looking at a beautiful bird, or a pretty butterfly, or a lovely tree. I then look up to the person who confidently identifies it for me. A Bulbul! I am thrilled that I have this knowledge.

red-whiskered bulbul vs 100710 photo IMG_6372.jpg

Then, of course, I go on the next birding trip, and realize that “Bulbul” is not enough. Another expert informs me that it is the Red-whiskered Bulbul. I file this name away in my (admittedly leaky) memory.

After this, over several birding outings, I see many other kinds of Bulbul. The White-browed, the Red-vented, the Yellow-throated, the Ruby-throated…and so the list goes. I now go all scientific. I no longer refer to a Bulbul. I say, with hauteur, to the person next to me, who’s come his or her first birding trip: “Oh, yes, that’s a very common bird!”(It’s always important to beat the newbie down from the joy of enjoying the beauty of a bird by emphasizing that it’s a Very Common Bird.)”It’s the…Pycnonotus jocosus,” I add (if I remember the name…the experts do remember, of course, and add it, cutting my ego down to size every time.) For some reason, just saying “Pycnonotus jocosus” impresses the bejeesus out of the newbies. I am now an Experienced Birder (no matter that I may not know the name, let alone the scientific one, of the next bird we spot!). Should I not have added to the joy of the birder’s thrill by agreeing that it’s a beautiful bird, and letting him find out, later, that it is a “common” bird? Oh, no…I have to rain on his parade with my “knowledge”!

I now always go on about how the scientific names are the only correct way of identifying the bird. “Scientific names are full of knowledge,” I say glibly, and take the example of another bird, where the Latin name is easily translatable…and apt. I never refer to the “Pycnonotus jocosus” which I myself have trouble remembering. Nor do I take the example of scientific names which are downright esoteric, or unfathomable. My eager listeners hang on my every (learned) word.

This kind of “I know more than you” games are not restricted to birding…indeed, every form of human endeavour and knowlege has the Gods of the Id, who can Recite The Names and Spout The Jargon better than others, and are, therefore, reckoned to be The Experts. The person in the seat next to me in the Carnatic music concert is, in utterly blissful ignorance, enjoying the melody of what he is hearing. But I won’t let him in peace. To his happy question, “Isn’t it beautiful?” I don’t merely nod….I respond, “Oh, yes, Podalangapriya is such a rare but beautiful ragam! I remember, in 1905, Mahakrishnapuram Rama Iyengar sang an RTP (such is the erudite way of referring to Ragam, Thaanam, Pallavi) in this ragam, set to khanda triputa taalam!” The poor neighbour retires in abashed awe.

I don’t dispute that scientific names, and precise id’s are required. But they are not required by everyone. My “ignorant” neighbour in the concert is enjoying the music as much as I fact, probably more than I am, as I try to resolve in my own mind whether the ragam is, indeed, Podalangapriya, or its relative in the same Melakarta, Kathrikeswari. If I want to make a study of the science underlying what I enjoy, that’s fine. But let it not be touted as a superior achievement, to be aspired to by one and all.


is a photograph, with Adesh’s view of scientific names, and my response to him.

Scientific names are necessary, but…

February 27, 2009

If you heard something being called “Ourapteryx clara, Geometridae”, would you ever associate it with this ?

Such a beauty, with an Orrible name….

I will never be a botanist, zoologist, lepidopterist, or any other ist. I would call that the star moth and enjoy its beauty…

Well, I realize others need to have a unique name to id it by, but that’s NOT what I would like to call it!

Here’s another image from my INW friend Kiran Srivastava:

Names, classifications, and knowledge

April 24, 2007

In one of the egroups I belong to, there has been some debate about using the common names or scientific names of trees/plants, with some people feeling that it is elitist to use scientific names. Here are my thoughts:

I too am a beginner with very limited knowledge, but I find it very interesting to look at both common and scientific names and that sometimes leads me into so many different realms: of history, geography, the Latin language, some local language influences….to give some examples:

History: The Tamarind tree…the name is derived from Tamar-e-hind, or Date of India. This name was given to the trees by the Mughals.

Geography: Names like Bombax indica, Mangifera Indica, or the Ficus Mysorensis….these are probably the precursors of today’s “Geographical Indication”! They say that these trees have been “placed” in India.

The Latin language: Like Swagat has explained one name; “Ficus” means, “of the fig, fig”, so if one finds trees with any sort of figs on them they are likely to belong to the Ficus classification. The name holarrhena antidysenterica, surely is self-explanatory about the use of the tree.

Local influences on the Latin language: sometimes local names or cultural indications are included, like the Krishna Buttercup has the scientific name Ficus Krishnae, or the Peepul is Ficus Religiosa.

The same is often true of other aspects of Nature, too. Panthera Tigris…I start wondering whether this has something to do with the Tigris river in Mesopotamia. Did they once have tigers there, too? Interesting speculation!

I must also admit that many bird, insect and butterfly names completely confound me! Why call a butterfly the Common Mormon? The only Mormon I know about is Brigham Young and his band of followers in Utah!… But I leave it at that and accept the names as they are.

So to me, each branch of study leads me into several other areas of knowledge, which are all interconnected in the grand whole of Nature. I pick up a small pearl of knowledge, here and there, while, as as great a scientist as Newton said, “before me lies the vast ocean of Truth”, not yet discovered, and probably beyond human comprehension.

Thanks to the Internet and several search engines, much of specialized information need not be physically remembered but stored and accessed, so beginners like me need not try to remember everything.The internet allows us, also, to get the information from experts who are willing to share with us. No one can really know everything, but the really knowledgeable people are those who have all this stored in the original memory bank…their brains!

On my voyage of discovery, I leave profound knowledge to the experts and am happy to learn just a little bit every day. And if I forget it…well, I have the experts and the Internet!