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Re: OT: latin pronunciation

Oneofcultivars@aol.com wrote:
     "I tested the garden pronunciation with pseudacorus. I saved it 
though it failed the latin pronunciation in the classical sense."

The aquatic iris, Iris pseudacorus L., is certainly one of the most 
controversial as far as pronunciation is concerned.  I know it has been 
discussed here several times before.  And, there are 2 different 
pronunciations that usually come up, either pseu-DACK-orus or 
pseu-duh-CORE-us.   Its interesting that in college, when I was working 
on my thesis on the aquatic plants of the Cheat and Greenbrier rivers in 
WV,  my major professor, Dr. Jesse Clovis,  insisted that it should be 
pronounced  Iris pseu-DAY-kur-us.  His reasoning was that this iris was 
named pseudacorus, meaning false acorus, after Acorus calamus, and his 
pronunciation of that genus was AY-kur-us.   Acorus calamus is an 
emergent aquatic plant species with very similar foliage to Iris 
pseudacorus, but otherwise totally unrelated, though its common name is 
"sweet flag".  At any rate, Acorus is sometimes pronounced AY-kur-us 
(many references pronounce it ACK-orus, however), so it follows that 
Iris pseudacorus could be pseu-DAY-kur-us.   And, Dr. Clovis' reference 
for this pronunciation was Walter C. Muenscher, his major professor at 
Cornell University in the 1940's, a leading authority on aquatic botany 
and the author of  Aquatic Plants of The United States.  On the other 
hand, Norman Fassett, renowned Botany professor at the University of 
Wisconsin in the middle of the last century, and author of the classic, 
Manual of Aquatic Plants, pronounced this iris as pseu-DACK-orus.  These 
two men were probably the leading American authorities on aquatic botany 
in the middle of the last century, yet they differed in their 
pronuciation of  pseudacorus.   I also checked several other works, 
including several state and regional floras.  Most of those don't 
include pronunciation notations.  However, of the few that did (Gray's 
Manual of Botany, The Flora of the Northeastern US, and a couple of 
others), all of them put the emphasis on the second syllable, not the 
third.  Therefore, according to all these references with pronunciation 
notations, "pseudacorus"  is preferably pronounced either pseu-DACK-orus 
or pseu-DAY-cur-us, not pseu-duh-CORE-us.   It would seem that 
pseu-DACK-orus is the predominant pronunciation from the references I 

Having said all of that, William T. Stern, in his 560 page book  
Botanical Latin, says:  "Botanical Latin is essentially  a written 
language, but the scientific names of plants often occur in speech.  How 
they are pronounced really matters little provided they sound pleasant 
and are understood by all concerned.  This is most likely to be attained 
by pronouncing them in accordance with the rules of classical Latin 
pronunciation."  I guess all this just points to what others have said, 
that the real importance is in conveying accurately what you are talking 
about, regardless how you pronounce it.
jgcrump wrote:

>Latin, in America, is still used mostly in three fields: the law, medicine,
>and science other than medicine(chiefly botanical), and mostly by people who
>have never studied Latin, or at least not seriously. We needn't worry much
>about doctors, because they seldom attempt to say anything in Latin, and
>what they write is discipherable only by pharmacists, so the harm isn't

I also had to respond to this note since I've been a practicing hospital 
pharmacist for well over 2 decades.   I'm sure your meaning about harm 
not being spread was in reference to the harm to classical Latin 
pronunciation.   But you are right in that pharmacists are pretty 
skilled at reading Doctors' writing, mostly out of lots of experience at 
it, and knowledge of drugs, doses, and latin abbreviations.  And, we 
become accustomed to specific doctor's handwriting and signatures, if in 
a small hospital or town.  It becomes much more problematic in large 
hospitals (500 physicians with privileges now in the hospital I work in) 
and larger cities.  Having said that, some doctors' poor handwriting 
(and wrong interpetation) has contributed to numerous med errors, some 
even fatal, so there certainly is harm in bad handwriting.  For the most 
part though, pharmacists get it right a vast majority of the time, and 
are really mindful of patient safety.  By the way, among the most useful 
classes I took in high school were 2 years of Latin, and typing.  ;)

jgcrump wrote:

>Botanists, generally unpretentious folks who say "dusty miller" rather than centaurea cineraria,have nevertheless picked up (probably from lawyers) the grating habit of
>putting a hard "i" on the end of any Latin term in the possessive, such as
>Phlox drummondi (phlox drummond-eye). 
I was taught that a single i at the end of a latin name such as Phlox 
drummondi can be pronounced as ee, as in drummond-ee.  But if the name 
has a double i at the end such as Spiraea thunbergii, it is pronounced 
thunberg-ee-eye, because each vowel is pronounced.   While most 
botanists (at least systematists), might say "dusty miller" or "white 
pine" in casual conversation, they are detail oriented people and aren't 
satisfied with a common name like goldenrod.  They would be attempting 
to identify which of many many species of goldenrod it is, and that 
would require the scientific name such as Solidago canadensis or S. 
rigida, etc.

Finally, it seems to me that Latin as with every other language, would 
have had numerous dialects.   And, I would bet that even the most 
strident proponent of speaking "classical" Latin would not be a very 
competent (or easily understood) speaker of the language if he/she were 
in a conversation with Julius Ceaser or Pontius Pilot or Pliny.  After 
all, didn't French, Spanish, Italian, Romanian, etc all arise from 
Latin?  That in itself, indicates that Latin was quite variable.

When checking all of this out, I consulted a couple of botanists I know 
at the University of Nebraska, and also TAXACOM, an e-mail discussion 
group for taxonomic biologists.  Here is a quote from Curtis Clark at 
Cal State Poly that I found particularly useful:

"There are no extant sound recordings from the time of Cicero, and few 
treatises on pronunciation of Latin for barbarians. Classical 
pronunciation is *reconstructed*, by comparison of latinized foreign 
names (especially Greek and Phoenician, that have their own historical 
record, and German, for which there is a historical record from the 
early Middle Ages), by analysis of verse with rhyme and meter, and other 
sorts of comparisons. And, at best, Classical pronunciation is 
*literate* pronunciation."

Sorry for the length of this post. This was a particularly interesting 
subject string, and as you can see, I got way too caught up in it. Now, 
I'm headed out to do something more physical, like prune my grape vines.

Cheers,  Gary White, Lincoln Nebraska RVP Region 21

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