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Latin is dead (Official!)

Chris McKenna/Wikimedia Commons.
Chris McKenna/Wikimedia Commons.

It’s been a feature of botany that ever since the language of Ancient Rome became the lingua franca of the educated classes, descriptions of new plants were published in Latin. Sadly, new rules emanating from the august XVIII International Botanical Congress (held in Melbourne, Australia, in July 2011) will put paid to that tradition. The changes are described by James Miller et al. (sorry, ‘and others’…) in their informatively entitled paper ‘Outcomes of the 2011 Botanical Nomenclature Section at the XVIII International Botanical Congress’ (Phytokeys 5: 1–3, 2011). To summarise, the Code [the ICBN – International Code of Botanical Nomenclature – that deals with the naming of plants, fungi and photoautotrophic protists (‘algae’)] is amended to the International Code of Nomenclature of algae, fungi, and plants (the ICN); names of new taxa can be published electronically [!! – Ed.]; and descriptions (‘the validating diagnoses’) of new taxa can either be in Latin or in English [I do hope that’s English (UK)! – Ed.]. The latter two changes will take effect on 1st January 2012 (no, not 1st April – I checked this specifically!). If that news still leaves you concerned that you might not spell plant names – which are still Latinised – correctly, then you may want to use the services of the TNRS (Taxonomic Names Resolution Service), ‘a free utility for correcting and standardizing plant names’. Read more about that at http://www.nature.com/news/2011/110613/full/474263a.html. One shouldn’t be too surprised with the move from Latin to English; after all, English is the language of international science. It just comes as a bit of a shock after all those centuries… Still, one must move with the times (a bit like accepting screw-tops on antipodean wine bottles, I guess…).

Written by Nigel Chaffey

Nigel is a botanist and was a full-time academic at Bath Spa University (Bath, near Bristol, UK) until 31st July, 2019. As News Editor for the Annals of Botany he contributed the monthly Plant Cuttings column to that august international botanical organ (until March 2019). He remains a botanist and is now a freelance plant science communicator who continues to share his Cuttingsesque items with a plant-curious audience. In that guise his main goal is to inform (hopefully, in an educational, and entertaining way...) about plants and plant-people interactions.

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