Word of the week

Word of the week: tautonym

A recent quiz question on “Fifteen to One” asked which fish has the taxonomic name Thymallus Thymallus and is known as the “Lady of the Stream”. I had never heard of it. The answer is grayling. This form of taxonomic name, where the same word is used twice, prompted thoughts of other such names, and an unsuccessful attempt to remember what they’re called. I could remember Bufo Bufo (the common toad), Rattus Rattus (the black rat) and Gorilla Gorilla (the mountain gorilla). I couldn’t remember that this sort of thing is called a tautonym. As with words like heteronym and homophone I am making tautonym a Word of the Week, if only to help me remember it.

I have posted 300 pieces on this site in the last 18 months but have yet to post a link to any pages on Wikipedia, even though (like everyone else who uses the web) I visit the site most days. Click here for their list of the tautonyms in the animal kingdom. As the piece notes, this naming convention is not allowed in botany and tautonyms are defined as “zoological names of species consisting of two identical words (the generic name and the specific name have the same spelling)”.

I particularly like the following examples, which are all new to me: Bison Bison (the American Bison), Gazella Gazella (the mountain gazelle), Giraffa giraffa (the southern giraffe) and Gulo gulo (the wolverine). And Chaos Chaos is an amoeba.



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