Monday, 25 October 2010

Latin names

I used to know most of the latin names of the birds of the Western Palearctic. I've forgotten a few of them now, but can still surprise myself with plucking them out of the air. A colleague at work would often test me, even though he isn't a birder, because it amused him. Some latin names are so apt, and I don't mean by their literal translation. Scolopax rusticola says Woodcock to me more than the word Woodcock does. Lymnocryptes minimus describes a cryptically-plumaged small skulking thing much better than Jack Snipe does. Pallas's Warbler does create an image by association, but not as much as Phylloscopus proregulus, which sounds far more stately and regal, as befits such a jewel. I had a birding friend who just couldn't get to grips with latin and used to make his own up, but he didn't make them up terribly well. So, in his birding world, Reed Bunting was, in all seriousness, Reedus Buntingus. I still think of that species by that name in honour of his ways. Maybe we should all wander around proclaiming species in latin - it would stop all this Wood Nuthatch and Pied Avocet nonsense.

6 comments:

  1. Love the Scolpax rusticola Steve but my fave is Plectrophenax nivalis and of course the Troglodytes...

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  2. Now we know...... North Downs & Beyond is written by Rory McGrath :-)

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  3. Upupa Epops my favourite by far

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  4. Stewart: A northern bird for a northern birder!

    Steve: Rory McGrath! Phil Chantler's body double .. by the way, any sign of the Kent Botanical book yet? I haven't had mine.

    Gavin: Yes, that is in my top ten as well.

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  5. I find it's the commoner species that have the prettiest scientific names - Corvus corax, Fulica atra, Pica pica etc. They're much more succinct than those of species described later with much more long-winded descriptions.

    Some of the insects get ridiculous - Abax parallelepipedus, Stictopleurus punctatonervosus, Dryophilocoris flavoquadrimaculatus

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  6. Rory, I've not seen any sign of the Atlas yet. Mind you, the aforementioned Phil has questioned an ID down here so maybe the first edition has been pulped and will be reprinted?

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