The Root of Many a Minor Evil


I’ve read two new books about raptors today, and have been annoyed both times that

a) they include sections headed “Etymology” (cui bono??), and

b) that both are guilty of many of the same mistakes and imprecisions.

Elementary philology teaches that unmotivated error shared is the sign of common ancestry. I settled on the weird notion, repeated in each, that the Greek word for “tail” is “ours.” It isn’t, of course; the word is ????, “oura,” and unless we’re willing to believe that both sets of authors made the same typo independently as they transcribed the Greek sources, it looks very much as if each had borrowed the error from a single authority.

Unsurprisingly, this is it — one of the great works on avian onomastics, no less great for its many flaws, and perhaps the most-plagiarized title in American birding.

One of the blemishes is Choate’s etymology of brachyurus in the name of the short-tailed hawk, where he transliterates the Greek behind the second part of the epithet as “ours” rather than “oura.” And yes, it is exactly the accounts for that same species where the lapse shows up in the other two books.

One of those books actually cites to Choate. The other, though, doesn’t even list him in its bibliography.

Red-handed, I’d say.

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