The correct gender of Poecile and the scientific name of Willow Tit

Published on 10 January 2012 in Letters

Following Andrew Harrop’s letter on this topic (Brit. Birds 104: 668-669), we have received correspondence from both of the main protagonists in the debate. The full version of this correspondence is published below, and correspondence on this topic in BB is now closed. Eds

From Normand David and Michel Gosselin:

Under Andrew Harrop’s seemingly logical elaboration lie a few major flaws and erroneous statements. The idea that Poecile is ‘Latinised but with a transliterated Greek ending’ may be appealing, but there is no such concept in the ICZN Code (1999); a word is either ‘transliterated without any other change’ (Art. 30.1.2) or ‘latinized with change of ending, or with a Latin or latinized suffix’ (Art. 30.1.3). And contrarily to his erroneous comment under Art. 30.1.2 (in the BB website version of his letter), the ICZN Examples clearly differentiate between latinized and transliterated words (the latter are in brackets).

While trying to prove that Poecile can be only feminine, Harrop (again in the website version of his letter) summarily dismissed the -is, -is, -e Latin endings for the sole reason that they are supposedly non-existent in Latin nouns. Yet when Kaup (1829) established the avian genus Poecile, he clearly wrote that it was based on poikilos (a Greek masculine adjective, not a noun). It is not unusual for zoological generic names to be derived from adjectives (e.g., Criniger, Incana, Megastictus, …).

This point only strengthens our view that Kaup’s Poecile should be classified as a word of ‘common or variable ending’, and therefore treated as masculine (Art. 30.1.4.2). To paraphrase Harrop (in the website version): ‘this seems the closest equivalent in the code to Poecile‘. Harrop’s definition of the word ‘common’ is his own idiosyncratic interpretation, not what the code actually says (and, in fact, it is at odds with the word ‘indéterminé’ in the French text of the code, which is equivalent in force, meaning, and authority—Art. 86.2).

As for Leptopoecile, instead of quoting what Severtsov (1873) actually wrote (i.e., that Leptopoecile is ‘related to tits’), Harrop speculates that it is the Latin noun Poecile (‘a celebrated hall or portico in the market-place at Athens’). Jobling (2010), though, had already cogently recognized that Leptopoecile is the genus name Poecile Kaup, 1829, with the Greek prefix leptos [delicate]. Therefore, Leptopoecile should be treated in the same way as the generic name Poecile.

References

David, N. & Gosselin, M. 2008. Grammatical gender of Poecile and Leptopoecile. Dutch Birding 30: 19.

Harrop, A. 2011. The correct gender of Poecile and the scientific name of the Willow Tit Poecile montana. Brit. Birds 10: 668-669.

International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature. 1999. International Code of Zoological Nomenclature (4th edn). International Trust for Zoological Nomenclature, London.

Jobling, J. 2010. The Helm Dictionary of Scientific Bird Names. Helm, London.

Kaup, J. 1829. Skizzirte Entwicklungs-Geschichte und Naturliches System der Europaischen Thierwelt. Darmstadt.

Severtsov, N. A. 1873. Vertikal’noe i ghorizontal’noe raspredyelenie Turkestanskikh Zhivotnuikh. Imperatorskoe Obshchestvo Lyubitelei Estestvoznaniya Antropologhii i Etnoghrafii, Izvyestiya 8 pt 2.

Normand David, 10385A Clark Street, Montreal, Quebec, Canada H3L 2S3; email [email protected]

Michel Gosselin,Canadian Museum of Nature, P.O. Box 3443 Station D, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada K1P 6P4; email [email protected]

 

From Andrew Harrop:

Leaving aside the misrepresentations of my letter in their reply, I am pleased that contrary to their previous statement (David & Gosselin 2008), David & Gosselin (2012) agree with me that Leptopoecile is formed using poecile, not poikilis. Since the reasons for this are not explicit in their letter, it is worth spelling them out here: poikilis is a feminine Greek noun of the third declension (genitive poikilidos); accordingly, no part of this noun could become the word poecile. In passing, it is worth adding that contrary to my previous statement that this word was used only by Aristophanes, we are told by the scholia (commentaries) on Theocritus that it was another name given to the akanthis (Goldfinch or Linnet); also, Aristotle (not Aristophanes) used it to refer to a bird which was believed to eat lark’s eggs.

I also agree with them that Leptopoecile and poecile should be treated in the same way. The crux of the matter is therefore the correct gender of poecile, which I have already clarified and discussed in some detail previously (Harrop 2011). David & Gosselin imply that it somehow needs to be proved that poecile is feminine, yet this is not the case: the Greek word poikile and the Latin word poecile (which is the same word, as I have explained previously) are both feminine in Latin and Greek dictionaries and feminine according to Latin and Greek grammar. This is a matter of fact, not interpretation.

Some of the statements made by David & Gosselin (2012) are so inaccurate and misleading that they must be addressed before we move on to the ICZN code itself. First, I did not ‘summarily dismiss’ (or even specifically mention) ‘-is, -is, -e’ Latin endings; I presume that this is meant to refer to my comment about two-termination adjectives (other endings as well as the ones they list are found in two-termination adjectives), which was simply and correctly that they are not relevant to the case of poecile. Second, and more importantly, my use of the word ‘common’ is standard grammatical usage (see, for example, the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary which states: ‘Designating a gender to which both masculine and feminine words belong; (of a word) belonging to this gender’). Far from being at odds with this, the French indéterminé is used in precisely the same way. The word poecile is neither common, nor variable, nor indéterminé in any language.

The ICZN code (1999) includes the following statement in its introduction: ‘As in previous Codes, the present edition retains the requirement that Latin or latinised adjectival species-group names must always agree in gender with the generic name with which they are combined.’ Until such a time as an alternative system has been agreed upon, this rule must be observed. Article 30.1.4.2 can only be invoked in cases where the ending of a word used as a scientific name (in this case poecile) does not indicate a particular gender. Both Poecile and consequently Leptopoecile are grammatically feminine and must be treated as feminine according to the code.

Andrew H. J. Harrop, 30 Dean Street, Oakham, Rutland LE15 6AF; [email protected]