Updated: Jul 27, 2021
Following yesterday’s video, I bring you the second part of this week’s Wordy Weekly, marking BloggusClassicus’ half-birthday. Today’s words have an animal flavour (no, we’re not talking carnivores!). So, let’s go! Remember GCSE Biology and the animal kingdoms?
KINGDOM: not Latin or Greek, but certainly has ancient origins. The Old English cynedom or cyningdom, which was linked to the Old Saxon kuningdom. Etymonline says that Old Norse may be the origin with konungdomr. The Middle Cognate also suggests a link with German. The Middle Dutch is koninghdom, which is very similar to German kӧnigtum, which means ‘kingship’. The biological kingdoms are animals, fungi, plants, and protista (single-celled organisms).
PHYLUM: Within each kingdom, there are PHYLA. Each PHYLUM’s organisms share characteristics which distinguish it from another. The animal kingdom contains approximately 31 PHYLA. The word is originally Greek. The ancient Greek word τὸ φυλον means tribe, race, or clan.
CLASS: One of the animal PHYLA is the CHORDATA. Within this, are the CLASSES of mammalia and reptilia. The word comes from the Latin CLASSIS meaning ‘fleet’ or an ‘army division’, hence the notion of a defined, specific group. One of the Roman political assemblies, the comitia centuriata was divided into centuries, all of which were grouped into five CLASSES, the top two of which contained more centuries than the remaining three, and were weighted in favour of the wealthy, although the division had originally been based on the organisation of the army, believed to have been introduced by the sixth king of Rome, Servius Tullius.
ORDER: The rank below CLASS. The CLASS mammalia contains the subdivisions called ORDERS, ORDER chiroptera (bats). The word comes from the Latin ORDO, ORDINIS meaning ‘rank’, ‘order’, or ‘arrangement’. It could carry the sense of a military rank, or the different ranks in Roman society. When Cicero speaks of the concordia ordinum ‘harmony of the orders’, he was speaking about the top class in Roman society, the senators, and the equites or the knights, the slightly lower upper class.
FAMILY: A family in biology is a group sharing common attributes. The members would have come from the same ancestors and share common characteristics, but they are less specifically defined than members of the next rank on the list, the GENUS. FAMILY comes from the Latin FAMILIA meaning ‘family’ in both the narrower sense that we think of it nowadays (one’s relatives), and a broader sense of ‘household’. In Roman times, this would have included the household slaves. This may seem off to us now, but if one considers that they were expected to show loyalty and respect to their masters, one can perhaps understand the broader scope of reference of FAMILIA. It was also common for slaves when freed to take on the name of the master, who freed them. I enclose a link below to a worksheet from the Ashmolean which shows how freedmen and freedwomen’s names evolved with their change of status.
It is unique fact about Roman society that freed slaves automatically became citizens. In other societies, slaves might be rewarded with citizenship. But it was a far less frequent occurrence. Philip V of Macedon, in a letter from c.215 BCE, praises this Roman practice.
GENUS: a group of SPECIES exhibiting similar characteristics form a GENUS. Human beings belong to the GENUS Homo, but their SPECIES is sapiens (wise). GENUS is a Latin word. It is Latin for family or clan, race, stock, or birth specifically referring to descent by blood. However, there is also its Greek relative γενὸς, with more or less the same meanings, but also with the meaning race, as in ‘race of people’. Both are also related to verbs pertaining to birth, in Latin GIGNO, effectively a transliteration of the Greek verb γίγνομαι, which also means ‘to come into being’. Rather than the Latin word evolving from the Greek, it is quite possible that both come from the Proto-Indo-European root -gene- meaning ‘give birth to.’ The plural is GENERA.
SPECIES: The most specific term in the ladder of classifications of living things. It is a less a derivative, than exactly the same word that has been anglicised in its pronunciation.
The Latin SPECIES is pronounced SP-ECK-Y-ES, not SPEESHIES.
The word SPECIFIC also comes from the Latin parent word. In biology terms, SPECIES denotes a group that have common characteristics and can mate with one another. A GENUS can contain more than one SPECIES. Now, the Latin word can also mean appearance, which gives us the rather nice, but rather dated word, SPECIOUS, meaning ‘on the surface or in appearance’. A SPECIOUS argument looks fine and fair until its examined in some depth, which exposes the weakness beneath the surface.
Lastly today, TAXONOMY: The whole list above is a TAXONOMY. It is a ‘method for assigning classification from the Greek:
τὰξις - arrangement ordering
(cognate verb τάσσω draw up, arrange (especially in a military sense))
νομία - method, distribution
The TAXONOMY of animal kingdom classification was developed by Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus in the 1700s. Bloom’s TAXONOMY is a framework for teaching by distinguishing different levels of cognitive development and learning. Is Maslow’s famous ‘Hierarchy of Needs’ a TAXONOMY? I am not sure, the hierarchy is less about classification than a structuring of the evolution and increasing complexity of human needs, and a narrowing of the possibility of their full realisation.