Proposal (716) to South American Classification Committee


Change the spelling of Theristicus caerulescens to Theristicus coerulescens and that of Cyanocorax caeruleus to Cyanocorax coeruleus



Background: Current notes read:


8a. David & Dickinson (2016) presented evidence that the original spelling of the species name is coerulescensSACC proposal needed.


6a. David & Dickinson (2016) presented evidence that the original spelling of the species name is coeruleusSACC proposal needed.


Careful examination of high-scanned images of new names introduced by Vieillot in Nouveau dictionnaire des sciences naturelles (IXXXVI (18161819)) have shown that the original caerulescens and caeruleus were misread, and that Vieillot cannot be held responsible of these incorrect original spellings. As of a result, not emphasized by David and Dickinson (2016), original epithets starting with caerul- and coerul- are all correct original spellings.


New information: A recent contribution by David et al. (2016: 15-25) clarifies the situation:


Theristicus caerulescens and Cyanocorax caeruleus should now read, respectively, Theristicus coerulescens and Cyanocorax coeruleus.


Literature cited


DAVID, N., AND E. C. DICKINSON.  2016.  The ligatures æ and oe in Vieillot’s new avian names established in the Nouveau dictionnaire d’histoire Naturelle vols. IXXXVI (18161819).  Zoological Bibliography 4: 15–25.



Normand David, April 2016




Comments from Claramunt: “NO. David & Dickinson (2016) revealed a very interesting story regarding problems with the use of ligatures in Vieillot’s “Nouveau Dictionnaire des Sciences Naturelles.” The two ligatures were so similar that apparently even the typesetters could not distinguish them and used one or the other indiscriminately! For the same reason, later authors used spellings that sometimes do not match the spelling in the Dictionnaire, and we use today several of these “incorrect” spellings. David & Dickinson (2016) suggested that we should revert to the original spelling.


“Stability is a crucial goal in nomenclature and any proposal that affects stability should be examined meticulously. First note that the Principle of Priority does apply to the alternative spellings of an available name (Art. 23.5), however, “when an incorrect subsequent spelling is in prevailing usage and is attributed to the publication of the original spelling, the subsequent spelling and attribution are to be preserved and the spelling is deemed to be a correct original spelling.” (Article 33.3.1)


“Also note that these alternative spellings should not be considered homonyms (Art. 54.3, contra David & Dickinson 2016, p.20), they are just alternative spellings; therefore, rules that apply specifically to synonyms and homonyms are irrelevant in this case.


“Therefore, if I interpret The Code correctly, stability trumps priority in this case. Because both Theristicus caerulescens and Cyanocorax caeruleus are in prevailing usage, these spellings should be considered correct spellings and we don’t need to resurrect old spellings from their tombs.”


Comments from Stiles: “YES. The changes are minor and will not cause confusion, and are justified by the new evidence from the original type descriptions.”


Comments from Areta: “I do not know. I have been examining these ligatures critically and cannot convince myself that the differences shown are indeed a product of using different cassetins or whether the differences have to do mostly with problems during the printing process. Note for example the very enlightening cases of Novae-hollandiae (Figure 6) and Ramphocaenus (Figure 8). In the first one, there are striking differences in how the simple "o" is printed in "Nov" (open above) and in "holl" (bold, fully closed), casting doubts on whether the lack of a clear "a" in Novae is due to the use of a different ligature or an artifact of printing. The second case is interesting too. First, note the gross printing error in the lower "R". This is much more obvious than the lack of a little stick (=slanted upward feature) on an "a" in the "ae" ligature. Second, in the case above there is something abnormal both above and below the "a" or "o": the letter is opened below and the curve above is artificially straight and with a steep slope. Also note that in the case of Passer italiae there appears to be a minor hint of "little stick". I would like to hear thoughts from other SACC members on the causes of variation in Vieillot's names. Perhaps looking into more printed copies (i.e., increasing the n) can help discriminate true ligature problems from printing artifacts.


“Finally, I wonder why Geranospiza caerulescens (or coerulescens) is not also discussed.”


Additional Comments from Stiles: “I will change my vote here to NO. Such type-setting confusion with ligatures appears to be have been rife in Vieillot’s time, so I agree with Santiago that stability definitely trumps second-guessing the typesetters’ intentions.”


Comments from Robbins: “NO.  For stability, this seems to be the best option to a problematic interpretation.”


Comments from Jaramillo: “NO.  The inconsistency in what the names looked like on paper may be due to various reasons. Given that it is not clear cut exactly what is the cause, I think we should vote for stability.”


Comments from Zimmer: “NO for reasons of stability as argued by others.”


Comments solicited from Murray Bruce: “No. I normally agree with Normand David’s conclusions, but in this case, after I saw the paper, I counterargued directly with Normand.  He ultimately took the view that either form of the name could be used without altering the author’s meaning with the name.  Although some ‘ae’ and ‘oe’ distinctions were made in the paper, if such distinctions were the intent of the font design, then one should expect clearer differences, rather than having to work with subtle linguistic differentiations combined with slight variations in very similar looking diphthongs (their figure 1), or possible printer’s errors (also see below on different common font designs in use today).  So one might conclude with why change the spellings?  And here I am inclined to agree, but only after a little further digging into what is really an unusual and problematic issue with original names vs. subsequent usages.  Some years back I was involved in a discussion about the original spelling of the name of an African roller as Coracias naevius vs. C. noevius, in this case for the HBW volume covering rollers.  Access to Daudin 1800 was not then as easy as it is now. I found that if one accepted ‘oe’, the favoured variant because it looks like this at the original citation (Traite 2: 258), then one must accept Daudin citing the Systema Naturoe, if the font designs are taken at face value. I therefore argued in favour of ‘ae’, because this is apparently what was intended and was the favoured spelling in all cases throughout the 19th Century when we know that most namers of birds had a classical background in Latin. 


Also in the case of Vieillot, it would seem that ‘oe’ is really meaning ‘ae’, based on the font design used, and interchangeable certainly at least for the examples under discussion here.  However, we know that there are Latin derived French words such as moeurs, so that ‘oe’ as a linguistically correct ligature cannot be entirely ruled out, but very poorly served by the font design used by the typesetters of the dictionary where Vieillot’s articles appeared (and see below of their reprinting).


“Note here with Arial we have æ/œ, italicised as æ/œ; with Times New Roman we have æ/œ, italicised as æ/œ; with Bookman Old Style we have æ/œ, italicised as æ/œ; with Calibri we have æ/œ, italicised as æ/œNow what do we have?  The most common font variant in use then as now retains the distinctive italicised form with the subtle differentiation between the two at the heart of this debate still present.  If I use Times New Roman then all italicised ligatures resemble ‘oe’ in both cases, but with the subtle difference that the paper and figure 1 tried to demonstrate, but was there typesetter consistency in these cases?  I have long known of the usage of an Alcedo coerulescens of Vieillot from the same dictionary source, which is really interchangeable with ‘ae’, but this variant has been in use for a long time.  It was then all about demonstrating that someone made an effort to look up Vieillot’s dictionary article and, Voila!  I originally studied these volumes many years ago and was struck by this but after extensive examination took the view that in all questionable cases it was really about ‘ae’.  Note that Vieillot reprinted all of his dictionary articles, with some minor revision, in his continuation of Bonnaterre’s Encyclop. Method. of 1790-91, in 1820-23.  I checked these volumes for the Cyanocorax (2: 886) and Theristicus (3: 1147) and found that the ligatures there are even worse; they appear as stretched, thinner versions of what really looks like the ‘oe’, but could be construed as ‘ae’. In the ibis article Vieillot mentioned aethiopicus, looking like oethiopicus.  I checked the original (Latham 1790, Index Orn. 2: 706) and found that the font used there clearly looks like an ‘ae’ ligature, which of course is appropriate for what was then Æthiopia. 


“As usual in a case such as this, Cat. BM is of no help (3: 126, 26: 24).  In the case of the ibis, in Elliot’s review (PZS 1877: 503) he makes it clear that while using ‘ae’, his citing of the original name looks like ‘oe’.  Again, is it merely all about the font?  While I am yet to investigate the history of font designs, I assume that while both ‘ae’ and ‘oe’ variants can be easily recognised in various font designs of italics, it would seem that the ae/oe variants, as we have today in Times New Roman, were more widely used.  Lastly, as some of the slight inconsistencies in the examples provided also could be due to wear and tear of the metal font plugs or cassetins on the typesetting boards in those days, as well as the other anomalies noted as present in the appearances of other letters, this only adds to the problems. I would therefore agree with retaining ‘ae’ for the names under discussion here, which accords with the general views of all classical users of the names through the 19th Century.  And as Areta pointed out, what about Geranospiza?  This should be included here, or if treated as a separate proposal, the same arguments apply.”