Latin for Bird Lovers
I have always been interested in language and words. When I was in school, I took an odd little nerdy course called Latin and Greek in Current Use. It looked at the etymologies of English words derived from the classical languages. It turned out to be useful studying for a career in health care (bradycardia = slow heart).
Some English words have the same etymological meanings, but different connotations. Examples are synchronous (Greek) and contemporary (Latin). Once in a while it is possible to deduce the meaning of an unfamiliar word if you know the meaning of its roots. Ever since I took this course, I have found myself wondering about words and their origins.
Now move ahead more than thirty years. I love exploring the natural world in my neighborhood and blogging about it. I want to know everything possible about the things I see around me and share this information. I have found a book that fills a special niche in this quest.
In my exploring I encounter a lot of scientific names. Why was that name given to that flower? Why is the Spotted Towhee called Pipilo maculatus? What does that name mean? It is not always easy to find the translations for these Greek and Latin words. Sometimes a similar English word would provide a clue (maculatus is like immaculate = without spots). Usually, though, it would take a lot of time. Often I would never be able to find a translation.
Thanks to a Twitter friend, I discovered Latin for Bird Lovers by Roger Lederer and Carol Burr published by Timber Press in Portland, Oregon. It's arranged like a dictionary. The words in the binomial names of birds are listed from A to Z. Birds worldwide are included. The citations also provide example species and the rationale for applying the word to that bird. This is a reference book every bird blogger will want to keep at hand.
In addition to the word listings, the book includes some extended discussions of ornithology subjects. These include Genus Profiles ("Corvus" p. 54), biographies of Famous Birders ("Alexander Wilson" p. 216) and Bird Themes ("Feathers" p. 120). These make the book much more than just a dictionary. "A Short History of Binomials" explains the structure of the naming system and how the names are created.
My favorite features of the book are the illustrations. They hearken to the time and style of scientific illustration before photography. The visual impact of this beautiful artwork is stunning. I find myself browsing the pages just to look at the pictures. They impart an air of elegance and importance to the book.
This book satisfies a need I have had for a long time. I anticipate it will get a lot of use, and both my left and right brains will be nourished. I am delighted with this newest addition to my library and I wanted to share this discovery.
"If names are not correct, language will not be in accordance with the truth of things." -Confucius
Images: Timber Press