FW: [canberrabirds] Thoughts on C&B2

To: "Philip Veerman" <>
Subject: FW: [canberrabirds] Thoughts on C&B2
From: "Geoffrey Dabb" <>
Date: Mon, 18 Feb 2008 11:45:27 +1100

Sorry – hit ‘send’ prematurely.  Below is complete message.


Philip -  thank you.  I seem to be getting into all sorts of trouble with compressed messages.  I would be concerned about boring listees witless, but they can always use the old delete button.


There is more than one issue lurking here.   I’d better take them one at a time.


(1)     Back in the 1970s the AOU, BOU and RAOU were concerned about ‘misleading’ names.  If a Quail-thrush was not a ‘thrush’ it should not be ‘Quail Thrush’ or ‘Quail-Thrush’;  ‘Quailthrush’ or ‘Quail-thrush’ were, by contrast, acceptable, the differences being small but significant.  No problem there, all above board, politically correct, AOK etc

(2)    In 1978 a RAOU committee reported specifically on the issue of English names for Australian birds.  It favoured a whole new set of compound names where compound names were not necessary.   I’d better keep my examples to a minimum and stay with ‘Black-Cockatoo’ for various ‘Black Cockatoos’ and ‘Imperial-Pigeon’ for various ‘Imperial  Pigeons’.  The problem with this is that it was not then a widely accepted approach.  If it was not taken up internationally we would be adding to the number of alternative names.

(3)    Then came the Sibley&Monroe list (1990).   This was a high-water mark for hyphening and used  ‘Green-Pigeon’, ‘Turtle-Dove’ etc.   It probably drew on the 1978 list for Australian species (nearest thing to a standard list for Australia).  This used ‘Black-Cockatoo’ and ‘Imperial-Pigeon’ but at least cross-referenced ‘Cockatoo’ and ‘Pigeon’ in the index.

(4)    I think it is significant that Sibley&Monroe was not intended to ‘preclude regional usage of locally established names’ but to suggest a ‘consistent alternative to the scientific name in English-speaking countries’.

(5)    C&B1 (1994) followed the 1978 recommendation in this respect and it became the standard form within Australia.

(6)    Compound names and the hyphen issue has become a – perhaps ‘the’ – major consistency problem with English names.  A testing ground was Indonesia, with its lack of vernacular English names and merging avifaunas.  A 1992 Indonesia list (Australian author) argued strongly against the S&M approach, partly on the ground that group names should be ‘grammatically correct, uncoupled from taxonomy’.  Meanwhile Handbook of Birds of the World (HBW) (1997) has given us ‘Black-cockatoo’ (Australian-based author) and ‘Imperial-pigeon’!

(7)    So, someone has to start making concessions or uniformity is unattainable.  Gill & Wright (2006) was aimed specifically at achieving international consistency in English names.  It has been endorsed by the IOC Standing Committee on English names and commended to ‘book publishers, government agencies, checklist committees’  etc

(8)    G&W recognised compound names as the most difficult area to solve and the hyphen as the most difficult single issue.  The science-fixated view was that “if 2 or more taxa have the same ’last name’ the words should be hyphenated” (the view underlying C&B1).  Against this was a number of arguments involving the ordinary use of language.  Briefly the conclusion was that two words should be used unless eg both words were the names of birds or bird families, hence ‘Eagle-Owl’, but ‘Black Cockatoo’ and ‘Imperial Pigeon’.  (However, ‘Fairywren’ and ‘Cuckooshrike’.)

(9)    The C&B2 names were apparently reviewed by the ‘English Names Committee of Birds Australia’.  There is no mention in the C&B2 comments on English names of the compound names issue or the G&W recommendations.

(10) ‘Australian King-Parrot’ raises a different point.  It seems clear that this was ‘King’s Parrot’ for Philip Gidley King, Governor 1800-1806.  It was so called by George Caley, who was in NSW 1800 to 1810, arriving on the same ship as King.   Caley collected and described the bird in field notes.  However it was later assumed, apparently, that the bird had some kingly quality.  If the apostrophe had been retained it could not have become ‘King’s-Parrot’ and certainly not ‘Australian King’s-Parrot.  Meanwhile HBW uses ‘Australian King-parrot’.





From: Philip Veerman [
Sent: Sunday, 17 February 2008 5:56 PM
To: Geoffrey Dabb
Subject: Re: [canberrabirds] Thoughts on C&B2


I am quite comfortable with the "hyphening adventure" but if they use ‘Glossy Black-Cockatoo’ it is quite dumb to not have it under ‘Black-Cockatoo’ in the index and put it under ‘Cockatoo,  Glossy Black’. Is there the same silliness for BFCS under "Shrike, Black-faced Cuckoo". Indeed "Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike" becomes hard to understand without the hyphens.


I wonder how well known is the problem of the name ‘King-Parrot’. I wonder have you made efforts to highlight this. You have explained it to me and I did not know from elsewhere that it should be King's Parrot.


I also wonder have they corrected the dopey oft repeated miss-spelling of the species name of the Collared Sparrowhawk, (with the extra wrong h in it -cirrhocephalus should be cirrocephalus).


I like the name Maned Duck.



----- Original Message ----- From: To: m("","canberrabirds");" > Sent: Sunday, February 17, 2008 4:34 PM  Subject: [canberrabirds] Thoughts on C&B2


The new Christidis and Boles is a terrific contribution to what’s what (at least for now) with the local birds.


One thing I notice about it is the use of – and willingness to revise – geographical labels like ‘Australian’, ‘Australasian’ etc.   We seem to have moved on from the stage where English names can acquire authority from usage and be allowed to settle down.  After all nobody is proposing changing ‘Papuan Frogmouth’ because it occurs in Australia, or ‘Canada Goose’ because it occurs in the US.   I notice that 4 names in this category have been sufficiently hardy to have survived from Gould:  Australian Pelican, Australian Pratincole,  Australian Bustard and Pacific Gull (which I’m sure would not  be called that if it was being named now).


Moreover some geographical names look somewhat arbitrary and  are based on species limits that are evidently little more than speculative.  Therefore be prepared for more changes.  If you are interested in this kind of thing see the enclosed table which sets out the relevant geographical names in the list, with historic counterparts.


I have a particular dislike of ‘Australasian’ which does not slide easily from the tongue and in my view should not be used unless unavoidable.  According to my Macquarie ‘Australasia’ has a primary meaning ‘Australia, New Zealand, New Guinea, and neighbouring islands of the South Pacific Ocean’.  A secondary meaning is ‘Australia and New  Zealand’.


‘Gill and Wright’ is the 2006-published list of recommended English (world) bird names supported by the International Ornithological Congress.  With one striking exception nearly all C&B2 English names are also accepted in G&W, allowing for a slightly more conservative view on some of the splits.  (It is noteworthy that ‘Maned Duck’ lives on.)


G&W’s view of ‘Australasia’  is even more expansive:  ‘Wallacea (Indonesian islands east of Wallace’s line), New Guinea and its islands, Australia, New Zealand and its subantarctic islands, the Solomons, New Caledonia, and Vanuatu’.  [Not necessarily in order of importance, one assumes.]


C&B appear to have created a roadblock to international uniformity all their own.  This is the idiosyncratic practice of hyphening names like ‘Black-Cockatoo’ and ‘Imperial-Pigeon’ (not to mention the ridiculous ‘King-Parrot’).  This was suggested in the 1978 recommendations and was unlikely to catch on internationally, and it hasn’t.  If you want to find ‘Glossy Black-Cockatoo’ in G&W don’t look under ‘Black-Cockatoo’ in the index.  Try under ‘Cockatoo,  Glossy Black’.  It is a pity the opportunity was not taken in C&B2 to retreat from the hyphening adventure.  Perhaps too many Australian texts had already followed it.              

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