Tuesday, 28 January 2014

The scientific name dictionary

Scientific names are a horrible combination of mostly, but not exclusively, Greek words and bits of words which have been Latinised based on religion-influenced current practice of the 18th century and then pronounced in English - in the UK at least. We should maybe be thankful that at least it's not Swedish. The binomial/quadronomial system and the species concept also have hints of the quaint notion that all species arrived fully-formed and immutable from the hand of God and are static, but that's a whole other topic.

Still, it kind of works, especially in theory. In practice for one "common" name you might have an apparently endless succession of scientific names as taxonomy is shuffled around, so some of the alleged benefits are gobbled up over time. Still, it is how we do things. No two people pronounce everything the same but at least when you read it you should be able to make some kind of sense of it. This list will grow as I grapple with trying to make the obscure obvious, especially to myself. Sometimes understanding the scientific name is very helpful with identification.

Note - endings can be variable as they are in most languages, notably Greek and Latin. Declension of classic languages is beyond the scope of this dictionary :)

Science bit What it means Example
a- lacking Atrichum - lacking hairs (see trichum)
acro- high Acrocarps fruit from the top - mostly
bi- two Bidentata - two-toothed
brachy short Brachythecium - short capsuled
chaetal of or related to chatae (setae/hairs) perichaetal - around the seta
crassi- coarse, rough Crassipilum - rough haired
denta tooth Bidentata - two-toothed, plural dentata
diplo- in pairs Diplophyllum has pairs of leaves (see "phyllum")
erythro- red Bryoerthryophyllum genus - has red leaves
gymno- naked Gymnasium, Greek athletes competed naked
hetero- different Heterophyllum - the leaves ain't all the same
hygro- relating to moisture Hygroamblystegium
mnium moss It's Greek for moss. Simple!
muralis wall Tortula muralis
peri- around Peristome - around the mouth (see "stoma")
phyllum leaf Diplophyllum - double-leaved
pilum hair (Lat) Crassipilum - rough haired
plagio- oblique, leaning Plagiomnium
pleuro- side Pleurocarps reproduce from their sides, like Adam
rutabulum spatula ehhhhhh...
stoma mouth, opening Peristome - around the mouth (see "peri")
scopa broom Dicranum scoparium
stramineum straw-like Orthotrichum stramineum
ortho- straight Orthotrichums have stiff hair, or bristles
Poly- many Polytrichae have many hairs (see "trichum")
thecium capsule, container Brachythecium (see "brachy")
trichum hair (Grk) Polytrichae have many hairs (see "poly")

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