[CT Birds] Writing about birds. A question.

Boletebill boletebill at yahoo.com
Sat Dec 12 00:36:04 EST 2009


O. Kayyyyyyyyyy! So I'm clear now that there's really NO concensus about whether or not the standardized English vernacular names for birds are proper nouns or NOT. It seems like there's an "in group" convention among Birders to capitalize (except after hyphens)but for the great unwashed masses that don't consider "common names" (English vernacular names)
to be, necessarily, proper nouns (or is it Proper Nouns?) there's no need to capitalize them. So if a novelist writes about birds it's a bald eagle but if David Sibley writes about birds it's a Bald Eagle. Hmmmm, now MY eyes are REALLY glazed over. Allen's hummingbird? Allen's Hummingbird? Great horned Owl? (where's the hyphen here?) If the hawk is Rough-legged why isn't the owl Great-horned? Black-crowned Night-Heron??  Double hypens seem to trump the basic convention that the second term in a hypenated phrase is NOT capitalized. Chaos reigns.It goes on.
 
Thanks, I think.
 
[;>] Bill Yule

"For those who hunger after the earthly excrescences called mushrooms."

--- On Fri, 12/11/09, Greg Hanisek <ghanisek at rep-am.com> wrote:


From: Greg Hanisek <ghanisek at rep-am.com>
Subject: Re: [CT Birds] Writing about birds. A question.
To: "Roy Harvey" <rmharvey at snet.net>, ctbirds at lists.ctbirding.org
Date: Friday, December 11, 2009, 9:56 PM


I'm sure eyes are glazing over all across the list, but I'll chime in anyway since I'm a newspaper editor. I'm basically summarizing some points that have already been made, but I'd emphasize that as noted by Jay, bird names (or any other animal or plant names) are not capitalized in standard writing. Grab any dictionary and look up (for example as I just did) bald eagle, ring-necked duck, ring-necked pheasant or bald-cypress. No capitals in any of them. I write a newspaper column about nature and don't capitalize the names. The capitals wouldn't get past many professional newspaper copy desks. Same goes for breeds of dogs such as fox terrier or names of diseases such as cystic fibrosis (but note Yorkshire terrier and Lyme disease), all of which routinely get capitalized improperly. This is because none of these are proper nouns. Proper nouns refer to specific places, such as Yorkshire and Lyme, or specific individuals, such as Jamie Meyers and Petey
 Peregrine in a cage at a nature center (Petey not Jamie, who is quite a singular entity by the way).

All that said, books and other writing specifically about nature subjects regularly adopt as style the capitialization of animal and plant names, especially if standardized English names have been adopted by some organization. As Patrick Comins and others have noted, this avoids confusion between a little (small) gull and a Little Gull (a distinct species). That's why we use capitalization in The Connecticut Warbler and why it's best to use it on this list. I also use it on my nature blog at my newspaper, because I don't have to run it through my own copy desk!

Greg




----- Original Message ----- From: "Roy Harvey" <rmharvey at snet.net>
To: <ctbirds at lists.ctbirding.org>
Sent: Friday, December 11, 2009 9:13 PM
Subject: Re: [CT Birds] Writing about birds. A question.


Jamie, I understand your problem with saying "42 Snow Goose" instead of Geese.  It bugs me a bit too.  The only argument I can give in support of using the improper Goose in such a case is that computer searches are generally too stupid to pick up both variations in a single search.  In the daily report I (mostly) leave it the way the original poster typed it rather than standardize.

Roy Harvey
Beacon Falls, CT

--- On Fri, 12/11/09, Jamie Meyers <ctredbird2 at comcast.net> wrote:

> While not exactly on the topic of Bill's post, I do wish
> there were better understood standards for the use of
> pluralization of birds in written communication. If
> you have seen one pelican, then you have seen one pelican,
> without an S at the end. If you have seen 8 pelicans,
> then you have seen 8 pelicans, with an S at the end.
> Same goes for ducks, hawks, sparrows and probably 95% of the
> birds we see. There are widespread misuses in this
> area all the time, and it makes me wonder if the grammar
> rules changed in the past few years and I didn't get the
> memo. Of course, English being what it is (and I'm not
> an English major so I don't feel THAT qualified to talk
> about it), there are some species, such as Killdeer and the
> teal, where the plurals are not so clear.


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