Proposal (268) to South American Classification Committee



Change spelling of "Neotropic" to "Neotropical" Cormorant (Phalacrocorax brasilianus)


"Neotropic" was adopted over "Olivaceous" as the name for this species in SACC Proposal 3. The "Neotropics" are a region. "Neotropical" would describe something from the Neotropics. "Neotrophic" might refer to some new use of food resources. However, "Neotropic" is not, as far as I am aware, a word - unless its wide use for this species could be regarded as having created a new one. Dickinson (2003) adopted "Neotropical Cormorant" for Phalacrocorax brasilianus and forms the baseline for SACC, thus this is a rare example of deviation from that publication. I understand from Edward Dickinson (who recently pointed out this English language error to me) that adoption of "Neotropical" was a late change to his checklist and made for the reasons set out above.


Thomas Donegan (May 2007)





Comments from Stiles: "YES. I´ve always wondered about this one - I´ve never seen "Neotropic" used as an adjective except for the cormorant, "Neotropical" is the correct adjectival form."


Comments from Remsen: "NO. Suspecting that the many erudite people, even though most were Americans, who have NOT previously balked at "Neotropic" would NOT have perpetuated a spelling or grammatical error, sure enough Webster's Unabridged, often regarded as the premier authority for American English, gives "Neotropic" as the second spelling. Therefore, Neotropic is no more incorrect than similarly formed adjectives such as "biologic," "geologic," and "geographic" (as in National Geographic Society). Given that every change has its cost in terms of loss of stability and increase in confusion, I do not think it is worth it to switch from secondary to primary form. [By the way, Webster's also considers Neotropic etc. the adjectival form of the proper name Neotropics, so the frequent use of "neotropical" in Neotropical bird literature is incorrect  … pass it on.]. P.S. If we adopt primary spelling in all English names, then we also have to switch "Mitred" to Mitered (Parakeet)."


Additional comments from Thomas Donegan: "I am not sure I agree fully with Van Remsen's points above. As regards "Neotropic" being an adjective like "Geographic", this would seem a case of apples being mixed with oranges. "Geographic" and the other words mentioned are adjectival derivatives of nouns ending in a "y". "Geography" is the noun; "Geographic" (or "Geographical") is the adjective. Where the noun itself ends in "ic" or "-ics", the adjective usually takes a different form to avoid confusion. So something relating to "Mathematics" is "Mathematical" not "Mathematic". Something relating to "Systematics" is not "Systematic" (which means something completely different). Something relating to a "Tropic" or the "Tropics" is "Tropical". "Neotropics" is a derivative of "Tropics". We do not hear news of a "Tropic Storm" hitting an otherwise temperate region or of someone's plans to spend their holidays on a "Tropic Island". "Tropical" is the correct adjective, as so is "Neotropical". "Tropicbird" is a strange exception, perhaps, but we are not talking about that here and that word is firmly established as a word in the English language in its own right. English is a living language and things change. Also, thankfully, unlike the French, we do not have any language police enforcing one spelling or other. However, I would have thought that a formal committee such as SACC ought to be following and propogating established spellings rather than seeking to innovate in this sphere or adopt little-used secondary spellings or spelling mistakes.


"Separately, the "Mitred" / "Mitered" Parakeet issue is also a rather different kettle of fish. In the UK, "Mitre[d]" is the primary spelling, with "Miter[ed]" mentioned as the US version in dictionaries which mention alternative US spellings. I understand that the treatment is the other way round west of the Atlantic. UK / US spelling issues were subject to a separate proposal, including discussion of this species. "Neotropic" is at best a secondary spelling and at worst a spelling mistake in major countries where English is spoken.


Additional comments from Remsen: "With respect to Thomas's comments above, I reiterate that "Neotropic" is NOT a spelling error but a secondary form accepted by the premier authority on American English (which evidently failed to consult Edward Dickinson or Thomas Donegan), and has persisted without challenge for 60+ years. Further, SACC is only following previous standardized lists. If SACC were in charge of coming up with a standardized list of English names from scratch, then I would go with the primary usage, namely Neotropical, but part of our obligation, in my view, is not to make changes unless necessary. Each change bears a cost in terms of making obsolete the many publications that used the previous name."


Comments from Robbins: "To be honest, it doesn't make a difference to me. Especially given that the species isn't even restricted to the Neotropics. For the sole reason of not making yet another name change with this taxon, I vote "NO".


Comments from Zimmer: "NO. This really doesn't seem to be important enough to warrant the bother of changing the name yet again."


Comments from Nores: "NO. Aunque yo no tengo un conocimiento del inglés como para opinar sobre esto, pienso que los fundamentos dados por Remsen son suficientes para mantener dicho nombre. Aunque Donegan parece tener algo de razón, esto podría ser importante para darle el nombre común a una nueva especie, pero no para cambiar un nombre que se ha mantenido por muchos años. ¿Además, no sería un caso similar el de tropic-birds (Phaethon)?"


Comments from Jaramillo: "NO. To me name stability in this case strongly overrides the request to change to a perhaps more proper name grammatically, although I agree with Van that it is not an incorrect name. Balance on this is to leave it as it is."