Original YT playout date: 2 May 2009
Some images from the balcony before the plants start to recover from the winter.
Continue reading “Scenes from Domestic Life”
Languages, Nature, Travel and Discussion
Original YT playout date: 2 May 2009
Some images from the balcony before the plants start to recover from the winter.
Continue reading “Scenes from Domestic Life”
I have heard it said that the oldest profession is prostitution, but this is not what the Holy Bible states. The first actual task, other than dressing and keeping the Garden of Eden, was that Adam had to give names to each of the Creations God made.
וַיִּצֶר יְהוָה אֱלֹהִים מִן־הָֽאֲדָמָה כָּל־חַיַּת הַשָּׂדֶה וְאֵת כָּל־עֹוף הַשָּׁמַיִם וַיָּבֵא אֶל־הָאָדָם לִרְאֹות מַה־יִּקְרָא־לֹו וְכֹל אֲשֶׁר
יִקְרָא־לֹו הָֽאָדָם נֶפֶשׁ חַיָּה הוּא שְׁמֹֽו׃
“And out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof.” (Genesis 2:19)
This is a beautiful image of the pre-fall state of Man, in fact at this point he was even doing this alone as Eve had not been formed. But here we have Man at the first profession as it really was, that of taxonomist, describing and naming all the wonderful things God had made, with God as the loving father bringing each of the Creations to Adam “to see what he would call them”.
We don’t have access to his language any more so we don’t know what he called them, how he used the perfect language God had given him to describe and name each one of the thousands of animals God had made and placed into the Garden, but we do know that God was pleased with Adam’s naming, and the names given were given the seal of divine approval as we see “whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof”
Taxonomy was also a part of the modern revival of knowledge and Linnaeus, who was far from a perfect unfallen human being but nevertheless an exceptional mind, starting from the 1758 work Systema Naturae began the work again of naming all living things systematically. Linnaeus to Adam in this respect being something not unakin to Nehemiah to Solomon with regard to the Temple.
Maybe I am just a pedant, but it would be really nice if journalists who write about science or nature could take the trouble to use the proper conventions when writing the names of plants and animals. These conventions where begun by Linnaeus rather than Adam as far as we know, but they are accepted as law within the corpus of documents and institutions which have authority with regard to the naming of things these days. Namely: the genus should be written always with a capital letter and the species name with a small letter.
When I see a journalist who doesn’t adhere to this convention, then I know immediately that I am wasting my time trying to learn something form someone who himself, or herself, has no more idea than Jon Snow about anything, but at least I can look at the photographs, I suppose.
Just to give you one example of how it is supposed to work. The lovely orange and black bird in the image I have taken for this post is called various things in common parlance. It is known to us by the common name of Andean cock-of-the rock (to distinguish it from a related species with a more northerly range not touching that of this bird – that one is orange all over without a black back and is called the Guianan cock-of-the-rock. The Andean one is also known internationally by its local name in Quechua, or “Tunki”, and of course in various languages there are names for this species, with such highlights visible in the left column of Wikipedia that is the go-to resource for this sort of thing as Andenfelsenhahn, Андский скальный петушок, Gallito de las rocas peruano, Skalikurek andyjski, Skalňák andský, Coq-de-roche péruvien and many many more. Even a Spanish Esperantist calling himself Kani managed to make an Esperanto one and played the role of Adamo very nicely in giving it the name “Anda montarkoko”.
Nevertheless, each of these pages, to the extent that they are up-to-date, contain the information that the name of the bird in question is “Rupicola peruvianus (Latham 1790)”. The genus is Rupicola and the species is peruvianus, and the name afterwards is the name of the person who was Adam for the species – in this case Latham 1790 refers to the gentleman pictured on the right, namely John Latham, the author of several works on the birds of remoter parts of the world especially Australia, but “Latham 1790” means his Index Ornithologica, in which about 80 species of birds are described to science for the first time.
Now the reason why there are brackets around the author and the description date is that in this case the son of Adam we are talking about was not the first Adam. In this taxonomical arena you get second Adams also, and unlike in the soteriological arena you also get third and fourth ones. Other people have been involved in the question of taxonomy, unlike in the Garden of Eden where even Eve had not yet been formed, modern taxonomy is a team game, and in the case of our handsome fowl Linnaeus himself had got in first with a name for the Guianan cousin, which he called Pipra rupricola, in 1766.
Now here is where it gets interesting. Linnaeus had concocted the genus Pipra a bit earlier (he got the word from Aristotle but nobody to this day knows what Aristotle had in mind when he used it for a bird, other than the fact that it was a bird) and he put in it a group of birds called manakins (from the Dutch word for a little man, but this is the English term and outside of the scientific system – I mention the etymology in passing). This is in a family called Pipridae again using Linnaeo-Aristotelian word. The genus Pipra still exists and contains three species, none of which was actually put there by Linnaeus because two of them where only discovered later by other scientists and one of them was known to Linnaeus but placed by him in the genus Parus (I’m now talking about Parus aureolus, the lovely crimson-hooded manakin. Another bird placed in Parus by Linnaeus also got replaced to Pseudopipra, and in fact scientist after scientist, whether Gould or Reichenbach in the era before people looked at genomes or a whole set of them in the twenty-first century, revisited the genus Pipra and usually ransacked species out of it and carted them off to other passerine genera or other families of bird altogether – well you can’t have species from different families sharing a single genus that’s clear. So already probably in the mid 19th Century we have Pipra rupricola and Pipra peruvianus getting shunted off into the Cotingidae family and in need of their own new genus.
Now the convention is to work with what you’ve got and to look at every scientific work that’s been published, peer-reviewed and accepted to date. In fact there was a French ornithologist called Mathurin Jacques Brisson who had as early as 1760 (two years only after Linnaeus placed the Guianan cock-of-the-rock in Pipra and well before Latham followed suit) stated right here in this book to the left, here, placed the coq de la roche (of which he only knew the Guianan species and was unaaware there was another one) in a genus called Rupricola. He wasn’t buying the idea of having tanagers, manakins and a whole selection of dissimilar birds in one genus but he took Linnaeus’ “rupicola” or “rock-dwelling” species name and turned it into a genus name. From that point you should have Rupicola rupicola and had Brisson been the first describer and not the second one for that species it would have instead of (Linnaeus 1766) Brisson 1760 without the brackets. The mystery is how it comes to be that Brisson decides the genus but Linnaeus, describing the bird in 1766, gets to be the describer mentioned after the name. This particular part of the mystery is beyond me and therefore if anyone knows you are more than welcome to tell me in the comments.
If someone turns out to have a got a bit wrong, but have been mainly right but first anyway, they get the honorable mention, but it gets put in brackets. If the name is still what the discovere said it was, then there aren’t any brackets.
But in fact you do not need to state that part in order to be perfectly in order. Just as you do not need, when talking about the Andean cock-of-the-rock, as a continuing good example, to mention any of the four subspecies that have been identified. John Gould (he of gouldian finch fame) was in on this already in 1859 with his subspecies Rupricola peruvianus sanguinolentus Gould 1859, no brackets as he got it in the right genus, Brisson’s one, which bird he found at the Western end while a couple of Germans called Cabanis and Heine were scouring the trees of Bolivia to find a different subspecies, and both of these get a mention in Rupricola peruvianus saturatus Cabanis & Heine 1859. Not only were these gentlemen in competition as to who could get the most new bird species, they were also in competition as to who could grow the best potential nesting sites for these discoveries on their own chins. Another contender in both categories was a latecomer, Władek Taczanowski, who found Rupricola peruvianus aequatorialis Taczanowski 1889 and also got away with no brackets. He was one of Poland’s finest, having discovered about 40 species and 20 subspecies of birds as well as having about 8 other ones names after him, but of course nobody every talks about him and there’s never so much as a street names after him, not even in his native Lubin, which is a great pity. I would like to ask Rafal What’s his Name, the Mayor of Warsaw, to honour this unknown but influential Polish scientist with a street name when the next ones get built. If any of my readers has any influence with him, please use your leverage.
Anyway, I’ll close out on his image.
Original YT playout date: 26 June 2008
A continuation of the last film, this is part ten of eleven in this series of Madrid films. Here we have some plants that only grow in Spain and also some fine roses.
Continue reading “Still in Madrid Royal Gardens (Huliganov’s Madrid Experience #10/11)”
Today I can segue quite nicely from both the fact that I mentioned “Orange” last time and also the fact that the day I started writing this was the 8th March or International Women’s Day – Międzynarodowy Dzień Kobiet, a day associated with flowers, to approach a large and interesting topic.
Recently I was walking past the main headquarters of Orange (they have a lot of buildings and some of them are old telecoms-offices no longer needed with modern infrastructure, and these are for sale. If you want to buy one please let me know and I am sure I’ll be able to wangle a commission out of it, but this is their flagship office on al. Jerozolimskie) and it looks like this:
As you see, the green space in front of the office is looking rather unkempt but the reason is clear from the information board, which explains all. This is in fact a collection of natural meadow plants which have been optimistically planted in the green space in front of the Orange building in the hope that the exhaust from the cars won’t destroy the growing plants. In fact since we practically don’t have lead that much any more and the main pollutants coming off car fuel are CO2 and NO2, there shouldn’t be much harm to plants nearby, although maybe you wouldn’t want to eat them. These are both good fertilisers and their nuisance value comes from their being greenhouse gases. They can’t both be greenhouse gases and fertilisers at the same time, of course. On a molecule-by-molecule basis it has to make up its mind if it is going up or down, and such green spaces are indeed valuable oases of carbon sinkage.
The meadow plants that can possibly be protected in spaces like this may indeed find it harder to survive in an agricultural environment. Even forage grasses for pasture tend to be planted pure having had “weeds” or “impurities” removed, and only certain species left in. These mixes are then applied to land which has been tilled. So many species of wildflower are these days just as likely to be encountered in the protected environment of a corporate HQ green space as they are miles from anywhere in a place where the cropping is intensive. Some farms do look out for this, even some large agribusinesses, but sadly some don’t. The subsidies for set-aside are not always very specific about the species you need to be protecting in order to qualify and maybe for certain types of set-aside they should be.
If not, then it’s easy to see how many of the plants we are going to talk about today will simply disappear and never come back.
Now, to focus on the linguistic side, as this blog is Much Ado About Polish and not Much Ado About Agriculture, one of the things learners will soon note about Slavic languages generally, not only Polish, is that they are very good at making names up for all manner of plants, animals, fungi, places, illnesses and other natural phenomena where many Germanic languages default to Greek and Latin, and the way they go about it tells us a lot about the deeper workings of the language. I have noted precisely the same thing in Russian and Czech, where for every plant, insect or tropical fish there is a common name in the local language. In English or German on the other hand there is a tendency to find some having a whole bunch of common names, some with one and some with none at all because people simply default to the scientific name and use that as the common name.
Those are the general principles. Another principle is that often the base word underlying the Slavic common name for a living thing will be a verbal root, whereas often in Germanic languages it will be a noun or adjective. All are possible in each of the languages, but there is more of a frequency of verbal roots in Slavic and noun roots in Germanic.
Now I thought we could look at the information board set up by Orange as an independently drawn sample. I didn’t pick them so in a sense it is like a challenge set to me also to analyse these plant names in the light of the above theoretical talk and show you some insights about how Polish word creation works and how it compares to English in this area. It may also dispel this old chestnut about English being the richest language and other languages not having as many words as we do. You hear this again and again and it really is some properly warmed-up nonsense.
Here goes, first the close-up of the board itself:
Polish consciousness does have a wartime memory associated with red poppies however, even if it is different to ours. A song exists “czerwone maki na Monte Cassino” which can be seen here . This refers to the Polish war dead at Monte Cassino, around one thousand people. Not a lot in comparison with the total war dead in Poland in the Second World War, but a very iconic battle which was one of the best achievements of the Poles in the war, along with breaking the Enigma Code and the resistance breaking the supply lines to the Russian front. All of these things will be the topics of future articles.
The specific identification of species within this group is often not bothered with as they are rather troublesome weeds in arable crops and have no economic use themselves, although some have alkoloids which could be developed into cancer drugs potentially. They are important however in the ecosystem as a whole as they attract and support pollinating insects. And here we come on to the Centaurea jacea or brown knapweed (aka brownray knapweed) specifically – it has its very own butterfly, the knapweed fritilllary. Often we see however crosses between C. jacea and C. nigra – they may be subspecies of each other.
In Poland this mauve-coloured meadow flower is once again termed “łąkowa” or “meadow” – this time not following the Latin as jacea actually means “hyacinth” and is no doubt a reference to the colour of the flower. Certainly it is not “brown” as the English puts it, not in full flower anyway. The term “chaber” is used alone to talke about the cornflower C. cyanus and is also used to stand in for Centaurea generically.
Centaurea as a genus refers to the name given in Latin, and this is supposed to have come from a story that Hippocrates stated that the flower had been shown to man by the centaur Chiron. Whether Hippocrates himself believed that or merely regarded that as a cultural meme is anybody’s guess.
Again this plant is overlooked economically and regarded as a weed these days, although a tea made from it was a popular cough medicine in the past. It is of course useful as a home to pollinating insects.
That’s all the botanical etymology for this time. In a few weeks we’ll come back and look at some more of these.
Original YT playout date: 17 May 2008
This sunken ancient port near to today’s Limassol is barely visible through the waves but the walk there from the hotel reveals several natural curiosities, as this fourth video in my Cyprus series shows.
Continue reading “Uncle Davey’s Cyprus #4/6 – A Walk to Amathus”