Friday, August 8, 2014


I'm a paleontologist and taxonomist;
Steven Jay Gould, Foreword, The Far Side Gallery 3

Well everyone knows what a paleontologist is. Paleontologists study dinosaurs and other life forms from millions of years ago, but what is a taxonomist?

The word taxonomy was created in France in the 19th century. Its origins go back to the beginning of human civilization. One could argue that taxonomy is what separates human from other primates and other life forms. Also, taxonomist might be considered the oldest profession.
And out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof.
Genesis 2:19

Adam was a taxonomist.

Taxonomy comes from two Greek roots. Taxis refers to arrangement or organization. The same root is used in tactics, the arrangement or organization of forces. The second root is nomia, referring to laws and customs, such as astronomy, economy, and gastronomy - laws of the stars, house and stomach respectively.

In this situation, the etymology is not that enlightening. Taxonomy is about name things, particularly living things, building on the work Carolus Linnaeus started in the 18th century. These days taxonomy is used by anyone wish to organize some body of information, particularly by naming things.

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