Tag Archives: language

The origin, and fate, of “sister species”

Warning: etymological nerdery.

 The origin and fate of the phrase, I mean, not the actual species.

In evolutionary biology, a pair of “sister species” (or “sister taxa”, or “sister clades”) are each other’s closest living relatives. I was at lunch last week with an interesting assortment of biologists when the topic of gendered language in biology came up.  I think it started with “daughter cell”, which is routine in developmental biology, and expanded from there.  I was brought up short when the conversation turned to “sister species”.  It’s a term I know well and use often – and it had never occurred to me that it’s gendered.  This is, of course, a nice illustration of how insidious gendered language can be.  Whether or not there’s any real social consequence to our use of “sister species”, the mere fact that I hadn’t noticed the in-hindsight-blindingly-obvious gendered nature of the term was something of a shot across my mental bow.

Once you think about “sister species”, several questions seem obvious. Continue reading

Never mind the pedantry, they’re all “bugs”

I’m teaching Entomology this semester, and having a blast as usual.  Our 80 minute lecture slots are way too long, though, so one thing I do is interrupt the flow about half-way through for “Bug Of The Day”.  That’s just a slide or sometimes two about some cool bug, often with a real specimen to pass around (and with a stretch-and-water break for everyone right after).  It’s my favourite part of each class, because it’s pretty easy to come up bugs that make me (and I hope make my students) say “Wow!”.  I’ve featured bugs that are big, bugs that bite, bugs that are beautiful, bugs that have historic significance, bugs with interesting Latin names*, bugs that are just plain weird… I can’t possibly exaggerate how much fun this is. Continue reading