Carl Linnaeus – tercentenary article

Those who argue for Latin as the universal language find support in Linnaeus and his naming of species. He was born in May 1707, so articles about him have been appearing.

One such was in the Independent this week. A useful paragraph:

Take the emblematic bird of the Tower of London, for instance. The raven: Corvus corax. Unnecessary, you might think, a waste of time. Why not just call it a raven and have done with it? Until you remember that in France, a raven is a grand corbeau. In the Netherlands, it's a raaf. In Germany, it's a kolkrabe, while in Linnaeus's own Sweden it's a korp, never mind what it's called as you travel across Eurasia through Finland and Russia to Japan and Korea and China. Yet a biologist from any one of them can talk about a raven to a biologist from any other, and know they are referring to the same organism, because they both accept that this member of the crow family, for which they each have a different common name, is also universally known, scientifically, as Corvus corax, the name that Carl Linnaeus bestowed upon it two-and-a-half centuries ago.

This thought is developed in the paragraphs following (Use the link above). I quote two more short paragraphs:

It works for two reasons. Firstly, it's in an international language. You might think Latin is dead, but in biodiversity, it's very much alive, and it offers a worldwide level playing field, without any taint of cultural imperialism. If you believe that scientific names should be in English because English is taking over everything else, try telling that to a botanist from Brazil. You'll get a dusty answer.

Secondly (and this is its brilliance) it consists of just two words, which enable the subject to be designated precisely, and in the most succinct way possible.

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