Saturday, June 18, 2016

Taxonomic terminology again

I have often complained about idiotically unusable identification keys. Unclear descriptions of species are a related issue.

Yesterday I read the description of a daisy and encountered the term 'peracute'. Acute means pointy and is usually understood to mean that the apex of an organ shows an angle of less than 90 degrees (as opposed to obtuse for more than 90 degrees). The most frequently encountered problem is somebody writing 'subacute' to indicate... well, that is a good question. Pointy but not very pointy? And then of course we have issues with some taxonomists using related terms for pointy apices that show some kind of curvature, like apiculate or attenuate, in inconsistent ways.

But I have never before come across peracute. My first reaction was to try and translate it. Again, acute means pointy. Per means through, so through-acute? That does not make any sense whatsoever. A more modern meaning is 'for each', as in twenty kilometres per hour. For each acute? Yeah, not very sensible either.

But wait, I have that old glossary I wrote about in March. But no, sadly it doesn't contain that term either. So really, what is the point if a taxonomist uses a word that simply doesn't exist? Who will understand the description under those circumstances? Wouldn't it be nice if we could define four to six clear and universally agreed-on terms for, in this case, apex shapes, and use them, and only them, consistently?

Ah well. At least I had the opportunity to peruse the glossary again. And of course peracute is nothing. This book is the mother lode of bad ideas.

Pampinus - n. Tendril.
Then why not write tendril? Ye gods.

Panduriform - a. Fiddle-shaped.
Then why not... oh, we had that already.

Parastomon - n. An abortive stamen, a staminodium.
You know, we already have a word for that. It is 'staminodium' or 'staminode'.

Phoranthium - n. The receptacle of the capitulum of Compositae.
Ah, I have heard of that structure, only everybody calls it a ... receptacle.

Argh. Argh. Argh. Argh. Headdesk. Are some people actually deliberately trying to make their taxonomic publications pointless, useless and maximally infuriating?

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