Thursday, September 27, 2018

The Naming of the Shrew by John Wright

Parts of this, like the first bit, were fascinating and quite humorous (in a nerdy way, maybe).  Like all the funny wordplay taxonomists engage in while naming new species.  Like the accidental humor stemming from not-so-clever taxonomists or from juicy scientific intrigue.  And I love this line:  "The 'Linnaean system' is still what people think of on the rare occasions they think about taxonomy at all."

It was all quite well written, but I did think a few sections were too slow and detailed for the average layman.  I learned a lot (though there was so much information I'm not sure how much I'll retain, and some left me only with a basic grasp of the topic). 

Though I know that Latin names for plants and animals sometimes change (I've been researching cactus and a couple of important local species have changed scientific names between the publications of various sources), I've always rather thought of them as consistent, as more reliable than the multiple and changeable and fallible common names.  This book, more than anything, disillusioned me about that.  Well, they're still more consistent than common names, but they're not consistent.  But I guess it's good that our names can bend and change along with our ever-expanding knowledge. 

I did find it a bit condescending (or maybe just overly academic) when the author complained about so many cultures and scientists in the past classifying plants by unscientific principles such as…gasp…what is edible and what is poisonous and what is medicinal.  Those seem very logical and pragmatic categories to me.  Even now, if I get lost in the wilderness, I'm afraid I'd rather know what's edible than which genera are most closely related in the evolutionary tree.

I still don't think I'll ever remember more than a few Latin names, despite how much I love nature.  Maybe I should make it my new goal.   

I recommend this for anyone interested in the topic and unafraid of some deep delving and a LOT of Latin. 

No comments:

Post a Comment