' PLANT NAMES
Plants must have names, and most of the names which are now so fixed have gone through many changes, and I do not intend to tell how they have changed and how they have become finally fixed. That has been done by many writers on botany, and can be well studied in a small compass in Professor Earle's excellent littlr book on English Plant Names, in the Introduction to which he gives the account of the progress of plant-naming from Theophrastus to Linnaeus and Jussieu. What I rather wish to do is to show that however unattractive at first sight the stud}' of plant names (I mean their scientific, botanical names) may be, there is in them a fund of instruction and interest which will well repay the labour spent upon them. That there must be such names, joined or not with popular English names, is an absolute necessity in botany, as in every other science ; for " the first necessity for science," says Professor Earle, " was to know the objects, and to know them by their names." In botany these names are certainly very often long and cumbrous, uncouth and unclassical, and to many who use them they can convey no meaning at all, and I have often listened with wonder to men and women with no classical education whatever, and without the slightest knowledge of Greek or Latin, using a multitude of these long words squipedalia verba), using them accurately und, in many cases, with a real knowledge of their meaning, though with no knowledge of their derivation ; in such cases, their use of these words shows a wonderful power of memory, which is no way helped by tracing the fitness of the name for the plant.
There is now, and there always has been, a desire to use for plants popular names only, and the long scientific names have been mercilessly held up to ridicule, and have given occasion for many harmless jokes. Yet it is not easy to see why botany should have been so specially singled out for abuse and ridicule of its scientific names, except that perhaps the study of gardening and botany is the most popular of the sciences, and is followed up by a larger number of half-educated people. Rocks and stones, butterflies and moths, and especially birds, are as much common objects of the country as trees and flowers, and the different sciences of geology, entomology, and ornithology make use of scientific words not only as difficult to understand as the scientific names of plants, but much more difficult, because there is not the same connection between the names and the objects that there is in botany ; and yet in these sciences the names are not laughed at.... '
Back to the Top
Copyright © Ambra Books 2003. All rights reserved.