Image: Razorbill (Alca torda), photo S. Heard.
My friend Alex is nearly as pedantic as I am. Now and again on Twitter one of us will revel in correcting the other (in a friendly yet taunting manner) on some point of grammar or usage. Recently he got me good: what I’ve been calling “Latin names” all my life (for instance, here, here, and here) are not always “Latin” at all. I knew this perfectly well, of course, but nonetheless have been a bit sloppy. Alex points out here that “scientific names” is a more accurate term [edit: for a while, I used “scientific name” on Scientist Sees Squirrel; but I’ve changed my mind and reverted to “Latin name”]. I should have made this clearer, earlier.
But on to the issue that made me eat crow. While a large fraction of Latin names have Latin derivations, there are examples of names based on words from many, many languages. Greek is of course the next most common (the crow I ate, Corvus brachyrhynchos, has a Latin genus name but a Greek specific epithet). But there are many less obvious ones; for instance, I recently blogged about the Arabic derivation of Abudefduf. So I thought it would be fun to dig up some good examples, and to increase the fun, here they are in the form of a quiz. I’ll give you the scientific name; see if you can guess the linguistic root of the part of the name in red. (Answers below a jump).
Haootia quadriformis, an Ediacaran cnidarian
Alca torda, the razorbill
Dearcmhara shawcrossi, an ichthyosaur
Nundasuchus songeaensis, a Triassic archosaur (roughly, crocodilian)
Affecauda rugosa, a fluke (parasitic flatworm)
Patellapis hakkiesdraadi, a bee
Erythroxylum coca, the coca plant
Tarchia kielanae, a dinosaur
Cafeteria roenbergensis, a microflagellate
Slonik sibiricus, a weevil
Alpinia galangal, galangal
Tsuga canadensis, eastern hemlock
Bruhathkayosaurus matleyi, another dinosaur
Tiktaalik rosaeae, fossil lobe-finned fish
Marah fabaceus, California manroot (a wild cucumber)
OK, time to find out how you did (tell me in the comments). Here’s the jump to the answers:
Haootia quadriformis, an Ediacaran cnidarian: Beothuk “spirit” or “demon” (the Beothuk were an indigenous people of Newfoundland)
Alca torda, the razorbill: Icelandic “auk”
Dearcmhara shawcrossi, an ichthyosaur: Gaelic “marine lizard”, pronounced “jack-vara”!
Nundasuchus songeaensis, a Triassic archosaur (roughly, crocodilian): Swahili nunda = “predator” (plus Greek suchus, “crocodile”).
Affecauda rugosa, a fluke (parasitic flatworm): German affe = “monkey” (plus Latin cauda, “tail”)
Patellapis hakkiesdraadi, a bee: Afrikaans “barbed wire”, for its bristles
Erythroxylum coca, the coca plant: Quechua (name for the coca plant)
Tarchia kielanae, a dinosaur: Mongolian “brain”
Cafeteria roenbergensis, a microflagellate: English, for its indiscriminate diet
Slonik sibiricus, a weevil: Russian “little elephant”
Alpinia galangal, galangal: Arabic (meaning uncertain)
Tsuga canadensis, eastern hemlock: Japanese “hemlock”
Bruhathkayosaurus matleyi, another dinosaur: Sanskrit bruhath + kāya = “huge body” (+ Latin saurus = “lizard”)
Tiktaalik rosaeae, fossil lobe-finned fish: Inuktitut “burbot”
Marah fabaceus, California manroot (a wild cucumber): Hebrew “bitter”
How did you do?
If you liked these, there’s a much longer list at Curious Taxonomy (some but not all of my examples are there, along with a cornucopia of other Latin-name-based amusement).
© Stephen Heard (firstname.lastname@example.org) March 23 2015