Fixing terminology

Scott D. Russell srussell at OU.EDU
Fri Apr 25 12:52:34 EST 1997

After looking at Bob Vickery's list of terms, e.g.:

> Proposed Term               Old Term     Rationale
> belly                       venter       unneccessary classicism
> embryonic food store        endosperm    = albumen (French) confusing
> ovule coat                  integument   unneccessary classicism
> female parts                gynoecium    unneccessary classicism
> male parts                  androecium   unneccessary classicism
> flower stalk                pedicel      unneccessary classicism
> inflorescence stalk         peduncle     unneccessary classicism
> outer layer of fruit wall   epicarp      unneccessary classicism
> middle layer of fruit wall  mesocarp     unneccessary classicism
> inner layer of fruit wall   endocarp     unneccessary classicism

I find a need for these terms in a developmental and structural context.
The proposed terms are to scientific terms as common names are to
scientific plant names:  the scientific terms has very specific
ontogenetic and homological context, whereas the common names do not.
The revised terms also lack internationalism outside of English-speaking
lands.  If we think that plant molecular biologists are not well-founded
in basic plant biology now, wait until the introductory plant biology
instructors abandon conventional terminology and see how easy it is to
warm students up to it in later courses in the major after introducing
the terminology as being unnecessarily classical!  You may notice that
plasmalemma and tonoplast are not in the list ... I totally agree on

I strongly agree with the comment that terminology must be introduced in
a context. Without a use for a term, there is no need to teach it.  For
introductory students, I try to keep my efforts focussed by thinking
about what they may remember in 10 years that may be useful when they
are thinking about plants and science.  

About the elimination of "bad terms," maybe we should organize a Web
site on this specific topic to archive comments.  This would serve as a
central exchange point that we could show publishers and say, "these are
terms that botanists would like changed and here's why."  In the end,
the publishers make their living based on us and if we don't like the
product, they will have to change it.  While we are at it, if you really
want to get me started, show me yet another picture of a naked sperm
nucleus inside a pollen tube -- perhaps the widest published
misconception in the general biology world -- they are true cells,
despite what 95% of the biology and plant biology books show!!  Thanks
for listening,  -Scott
Scott D. Russell                     Internet:  srussell at
Dept of Botany & Microbiology      ->
 & Noble Electron Microscopy Lab   >
University of Oklahoma, Norman OK    Phone:  1-405-325-6234
 73019-0245   USA                    FAX:    1-405-325-7619

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