“the unfortunate matter of the suffix -anus”

I am pretty sure I have overshared from John Wright’s “The Naming of the Shrew”but ah sure one more for the road:

First, the unfortunate matter of the suffix -anus. In Latin nomenclature, it simply indicates position, connection or possession by, as in sylvanus (‘belonging to woods’), africanus (‘coming from Africa’) and alphonsianus (for Professor Alphonse Milne-Edwards). It has nothing to do with anything anatomical. The English name for the body part is from the Latin noun with the same meaning, itself a derivative of anulus or annulus – ‘a ring’. On the page, or if pronounced as in ‘pat’ or in ‘part’, the suffix is unremarkable; only when pronounced (properly, as it happens) with an ‘ay’, as in ‘pane’, does it become a source of infantile sniggering (for notes on pronunciation, see here). Taxonomists, wary of offending those they wish to honour, tend to avoid the suffix, if possible. But some names suffer more than others, and no doubt Milne-Edwards was delighted with his epithet. Professor Roy Watling, formerly of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, told me of the occasion he and his colleague Alex Smith wished to name a new species of mushroom in the genus Leccinum (a bolete). It was to honour the distinguished boletologist Walter Snell. Faced with the unthinkable snellianus, they settled on Leccinum snelli.

Other taxonomists have not been so considerate. The nineteenth-century botanist William Hemsley, for example, does not appear to have thought through his name for the bramble species Rubus cockburnianus, with which he wished to honour the Cockburn family. Rafinesque, although of French descent, lived and worked in the US, so he should have realised that his Soranus was open to misinterpretation.

More forgivable because of the language difference is Bugeranus, the generic name of B. carunculatus, the wattled crane, with which the German ornithologist Gloger presented Herr Buger. For temporal as well as language reasons, the nineteenth-century German botanist Karl Sigismund Kunth cannot be held responsible for the specific epithet of the invasive gamba grass Andropogon gayanus, with which he honoured the French botanist Claude Gay.

However, P. J. Hancox, writing in 1987, must be guilty as charged for giving us the improbable imperative therapsid genus Dolichuranus; that dolichos is Greek for ‘long’ does not forgive.

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