One of my pet peeves about the modern world is the way it seems that EVERYTHING has to be dumbed down. From the King James Bible all the way to children’s literature and all the stuff in between, we’ve been busily bringing it all down to the lowest common denominator. So I guess it’s not a surprise — just a huge disappointment — that now, botanical Latin seems to be under attack.
A recent article in the New York Times says that the International Code of Botanical Nomenclature (as of Jan. 1) no longer requires botanists to give Latin descriptions of new species. Now, to be fair, it’s possible that there are as many as 100,000 undiscovered plant species. There’s also a fair likelihood that the combination of climate change and the rise of invasive species may put as much as a third of these species at risk of extinction. Tempis fugit and all that.
However, given that botanical Latin has been in common use since the 18th century, I do have to ask why, suddenly, does the practice need to be discontinued? Presumably (and certainly traditionally), botanists are also scholars. Surely, they have some command of Latin. And it shouldn’t be forgotten that Latin names often give clues as to the color, texture and growing habit of a plant. For those reasons and a few others, this nod to convenience (or dumbing down, as I see it) is just another marker on the downhill slide of ignorance. How sad that it’s always celebrated as an advance.