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A Gorilla By Any Other Name Would Smell As Sweet

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Thursday, Nov. 28th — Andy MacKinnon, "Temperate Rainforests," 7:30 p.m., MY Place.

Andy MacKinnon, best known as the co-author of "Plants of Coastal B.C.," is an incredibly energetic and enthusiastic speaker. A mushroom guy (mycologist) by training, Andy has studied and monitored temperate rainforests through his senior position with the B.C. government. His presentation will describe temperate rainforests (including those in Whistler) and the challenges in managing them for a number of uses, including the opportunities and risks of harvesting non-forest timber products (for example, mushrooms and plants for the floral trade). Admission by donation.

Sightings: To report noteworthy bird sightings any time of year, please contact Michael Thompson (604-932-5010; email: redpath@telus.net).

By Bob Brett, Whistler Naturalists

O Romeo, Romeo! wherefore art thou Romeo?

Deny thy father, and refuse thy name.

Tis but thy name that is my enemy;

Thou art thyself though, not a Montague.

What’s Montague? it is nor hand, nor foot,

Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part

Belonging to a man. O! be some other name:

What’s in a name? that which we call a rose

By any other name would smell as sweet;

(William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet . Act ii. Scene 2)

Two of the lines most often quoted from Shakespeare appear at the end of the quote above. This is the scene where Romeo is hidden in the bushes pining for his forbidden love – forbidden because Romeo’s family (the Montagues) and Juliet’s family (the Capulets) are engaged in a family feud that would make municipal elections seem tame.

Juliet asks: "What’s in a name?" It’s a profound philosophical question since, as philosophers say, the name is not the thing. Nonetheless, a conversation without consistent names for the same things would be pretty difficult. This was the case in science well into the 1700s.

Then a Swedish scientist, Carl Linnaeus, introduced his Systema naturae , a revolutionary approach to naming and classifying species. We still use the basics of the system he first introduced in 1735, notably the unique binomial ("two name") given each species. Perhaps the most famous application of Linnaeus’ system was the stop action shots in the Roadrunner cartoons. I remember one, when the coyote was about to be blown up for the 10th time, that read something like "Wile E. Coyote ( Dynamitus explodicus )."

Part of the joke was that it played on the way scientists really did (and do) name things. And the result was always a lot funnier than the real name, in this case, Coyote ( Canis latrans ).