Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The American Ornithologists-Union Check-List of North American-Birds

Going through a lot of bird lists lately leaves me pondering the eternal question:

Will the AOU ever get its hyphens right?

Sure, they have consistent rules for usage now, but that doesn't change the fact that the rules are wrong. By this I mean they are at odds with standard English style and usage in the rest of the world. A "bean-goose" is some strange creature that is a chimera of bean and goose. A "night-heron" is an entity that is a mix of night and heron, which is a mythological beast at best (seen Hagrid lately?). A heron that is active at night would be "night heron" or a "nightheron." A goose that likes beans is a "bean goose," or a "beangoose" if you must compound the noun. Last time I checked, there are no leaves growing out of the "foliage-gleaners." And there is very little rain or snow coming out of a "storm-petrel." The rule is to use a hyphen to make a new noun for a thing that combines characters of the two source nouns. You do not use the hyphen to link two nouns when the first noun is just something the second noun is associated with. A plover that likes sand is a "sand plover." A plover that is made of small hard granules is a "sand-plover."

These compound hyphenated groups names in the AOU checklist are correct; all the others are wrong:

Tiger-Heron (a stripy heron, not a heron that likes to sit on the backs of tigers)
Hawk-Eagle (an eagle-ish hawk, not an eagle that eats hawks)
Quail-Dove (by now the pattern should be clear...)
Nightingale-Thrush (though this one is iffy since the original nightingale is also a thrush...)
Shrike-Tanager (but not palm-tanager, since they rarely have fronds or produce coconuts)

This only applies to the "last names" of the birds, the actual noun part of the name. The modifiers before the nouns are generally hyphenated correctly in the AOU checklist: A "red-throated loon" is a loon with a red throat. A "red throated loon" is a red loon with a throat.

And, just to prove they can get it wrong both ways, they call it a "hawk owl" which to me is an owl that eats hawks; this bird is a "hawk-owl" since it is a diurnal, long-tailed, hawk-ish owl.

And the odds that this will be corrected before the end of this century are...?


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