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Should new species still be named in Latin?

Sep 02, 2014

Experts say biological classification should now be done in English.

The practice of giving plants and animals a Latin name dates back to the 18th century. In those days, Latin was still commonly spoken by scientists across the world, meaning that Latin names were easier to understand for more people than names in other languages. Classifying living organisms is called taxonomy, and each is given a name in two parts, the first for its genus and the second for the family it belongs to. This is known as its scientific name so, for example, great white sharks are known as carcharodon carcharias and horse chestnut trees are known as aesculus hippocastanum.

However, the International Botanical Congress has now voted to scrap Latin names for all new species of plants, fungi and algae, saying that they are irrelevant in the modern world, and should be done in English instead. But while the move might clear up some of the confusion around names, it might also end some of the fun scientists have had too. Current rules state that while the prefixes and suffixes of names have to be Latin that doesn’t apply to the words themselves, meaning some scientists have inserted jokes and references into names such as the that for a spongy fungus called spongiforma squarepantsii, while a 20 million year old grasshopper discovered trapped in amber was recently named electrotettix attenboroughi in David Attenborough’s honour.

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