Publishing convention re bird-names

To: Birding-Aus Aus <>, David James <>
Subject: Publishing convention re bird-names
From: Rod Gardner <>
Date: Thu, 12 Apr 2012 15:00:31 +1000
Fauna and flora species are not classic proper nouns, because they are not
unique identities (except perhaps the last Spix Macaw).  So David’s list
includes references to many things of which there is only one: geographical
localities (Ulura), planets (Uranus), corporations (Unilever), institutions
(United Nations), buildings (Unilever House), bridges (Sydney Harbour
Bridge), people (Julia Gillard). But, you might say, there will be more
than one Julia Gillard in the world. The point is, though, that each time
you use ‘Julia Gillard’, I’d guarantee you’d be referring to a particular
Julia Gillard, not a bunch of julia gillards around the world. Species
names, on the other hand, are words/phrases that can refer collectively to
all Little Lorikeets, Brown Honeyeaters, Grey Falcons, Great-billed Herons,
Splendid Fairy-wrens and so on, in a similar way to ‘the team’ referring to
a specific bunch of people. So strictly speaking, if you follow the rules
for proper nouns, species names should be lower case. But the world isn’t
that simple. Days of the week are generally capitalised, probably because
when they are used they are referring to a unique Tuesday (like the unique
Julia Gillard). It would therefore be logical to write, ‘We generally meet
on tuesdays’ (my spell check automatically capitalised ‘Tuesday’ – point
made), because it’s no longer referring to a unique entity. In fact, to the
chagrin of many, language is not particularly logical, and any rules such
as the capitalization (or not) of species names is, to some extent at
least, arbitrary. It’s what keeps language interesting for us linguists.

Rod Gardner

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