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Genus Names

This topic contains 6 replies, has 3 voices, and was last updated by  Dr Frond 1 month, 2 weeks ago.

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  • #16081

    Dr Frond
    Participant

    Could some kind person please explain to me why British genus names are neuter or feminine, but never masculine, and if this only applies to British ferns. Thank you very much.

    #16168

    Tim Pyner
    Moderator

    I am not sure why most fern genera are feminine or neuter. A few non-British genera with masculine gender are Allosorus, Cyclosorus, Lepisorus, Leptochilus and Sticherus.
    Sorry can’t be of more help.

    #16172

    Dr Frond
    Participant

    Thanks Tim.

    Does anyone else have any ideas?

    #16183

    Roger Golding
    Keymaster

    Maybe part of the reason is that because the Greek and Latin words for fern – Pteris and Filix – are both feminine, so there’s been a tendency, particularly among early botanists, to assume that fern names should be feminine as well unless directly derived from male or neuter words. Doesn’t account for so many neuter ones though. I hesitate to suggest some sexist bias here, but I wonder if more of the early botanists had been female there would be more names with masculine endings? And why are genus names derived from male botanists feminine? (Woodsia, Woodwardia, etc).

    #16207

    Dr Frond
    Participant

    Thanks Roger – interesting. Do you think that female botanists would have preferred masculine endings? I’m not sure. And there were quite a few female collectors. I wonder if it is something to do with the fact that ferns were generally seen, and described as possessing, ‘feminine’ characteristics: beauty, elegance, charm, grace, delicacy. To quote from my own book,’They were even praised for exemplifying elevated moral characteristics, particularly modesty: “They shrink . . . from vulgar gaze. They are too pure for the outer world. . . .”’

    #16252

    Roger Golding
    Keymaster

    Well, most of the actual taxonomists (as opposed to collectors) were men, at least before the 20th century. But then, some of the fern names go way back before Linnaeus as well. The pre-linnaean names tended to be Latin descriptive phrases taking their gender from the noun at the start, e.g. “Polypodium cambrobrittanicum pinnulis ad marginis laciniatis” (Ray, 1690), or “Filix amplissima lobis foliorum laciniatis Cambrica” (Plukenet, 1691) – both describing the same fern, what we now call Polypodium cambricum ‘Richard Kayse’. Whatever the reason, I think the tendency for these names to be feminine or neuter goes way back, and is not just confined to ferns. Here’s a quote from the International Code of Botanical Nomenclature: “most… classical tree names, were traditionally treated as feminine and thus retain that gender”.

    #16253

    Dr Frond
    Participant

    I was just wondering why you thought that ‘if more of the early botanists [or taxonomists] had been female there would be more names with masculine endings’.

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