Binomial: noun; a two-part name, especially the Latin name of a species of living organism (consisting of the genus followed by the specific epithet) (Oxford Dictionary). I have just finished reading John Wright’s book about binomials, The Naming of the Shrew: A Curious History of Latin Names (Bloomsbury, 2014), and it’s surprisingly entertaining. I’m not going to start doing book reviews on here but I thought I’d just share a tiny sample of the weird and wonderful binomials John writes about and, if that tempts you to read the book, then all well and good.
Senecio squalidus (Oxford ragwort) translates as ‘dirty old man’ and Primula vulgaris (Primrose) is ‘first common girl’. There are names derived from fiction: Yoda purpurata, a genus of deep-sea acorn worms, is so named because the large lips on the sides of its head are reminiscent of Yoda’s ears; and, under the influence of the Harry Potter books, a dragon-like dinosaur is named Dracorex hogwartsia, dragon king of Hogwarts. There’s a midge named after a rock band: Dicrotendipes thanatogratus translates to Grateful Dead; and a land snail named after Australian zookeeper and conservationist Steven Irwin: Crikey steveirwini. There are carabid beetles named Agra vate and Agra vation (say them out loud), and there’s a horsefly with ‘a perfectly round and golden rear end’ called Scaptia beyonceae. Enough … check out the book for more.