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Many of us are familiar with the well-rehearsed reasons for using scientific Latin rather than vernacular names. A Latin binomial is unambiguous, no two species share the same name, and no matter the native tongue of the speaker, Latin names are universally understood. First developed by Linnaeus, and explained in his Systema Naturæ of 1735, his system is still concise, accurate, and elegant. And the etymology and interconnections of the scientific Latin names that he and other naturalists coined can be fascinating. The roots are portals to a range of interesting information; they speak of colours, commemorations and companions – both floral and faunal.

Latin was for centuries the lingua franca of the literate and, because its roots are entwined in our daily speech still, teasing them out can cast light on the scientific meaning. With a modest amount of digging, the meanings of many scientific Latin names become clear, and discovering them a pleasure. I hope to elucidate – from the Latin elucidare to make clear, throw light upon, the verb related to lucidus, meaning light, bright, shining. It is the specific epithet used to describe the shining leaves of one of the privets, Ligustrum lucidum. It was appears in the modern word lucid. Note also, it appears in the name of Saint Lucy, she of Light and Vision. The same root appears in lucifer matches, and, of course, in Lucifer, the Morning Star; it means light bringing.

That’s the concern of Natural Latin.

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