A must-read feature in this month’s PCT is Al Greene’s “The Curious Fantasy of Scarecrow Hornet Nests.” As someone with a severe bee allergy I am always very interested in finding out about newly introduced products that can keep stinging insects away from me. (Do “fake hornet nests” work? Turn to page 110 to find out.)
In proofreading the article with Al, I mentioned to him that I changed yellowjacket to yellow jacket (two words) “to be consistent with PCT’s style.” Well, with this comment I stepped into a proverbial hornet’s nest (pun intended). Turns out the “yellowjacket vs. yellow jacket” debate evokes tremendous passion among hymenopterists, “particularly social wasp specialists,” as Greene emailed.
“The closest parallel I can think of is how dismissive the firearms cognoscenti are of the credibility of laypersons who use the term ‘silencer’ rather than the accepted word ‘suppressor,’” Green wrote. “Long story short, the ultimate arbiter of insect common names is the Entomological Society of America’s Common Names List (www.entsoc.org/common-names), which, for logically impeccable reasons, has always used the one-word version (found under each of the named species, e.g., eastern yellowjacket, western yellowjacket, etc.). Scientists who work with these wasps, as well as the technical entomological journals, follow suit.”
Al’s email got me thinking. How does ESA determine if an insect is spelled as one word or two? PCT explored this topic as it related to the bed bug vs. bedbug debate in the March 2011 View Point “Would a bug by any other spelling be as voracious?” by PCT Editor Jodi Dorsch. Jodi noted that while newspapers and magazines use both spellings, the pest control industry is in lockstep on bed bugs, adhering to ESA’s rule #4 governing common names, which explains that the issue of one word or two depends on the order the insect belongs to. If it’s a true bug (Hemiptera), then it’s two words, like bed bug or stink bug. If it’s a true fly (Diptera), then it’s two words, like horse fly or house fly.
But what should PCOs do with yellowjacket? Entomologically speaking, Al is correct, but PCOs are also business people. What if a PCO wants to advertise on his website or in his marketing materials that he offers yellowjacket services? Outside of the entomology world, how many people (potential customers) know that yellowjacket is the entomologically correct spelling (for example, Georgia Tech University’s mascot is the Yellow Jackets). Would a potential customer reading “yellowjacket” in marketing materials say to himself, “Hmmm, do I really want to hire a pest control company that doesn’t know how to spell?”
I posed this question to Whitney Cranshaw, entomology professor at Colorado State University and chairman of ESA’s Common Names Committee, which reviews and votes on proposed common names for insects. “I think the public recognizes both terms,” Cranshaw said. “I think the ESA name is the one [PCOs] should use. If you don’t have one place where common names are codified and accepted as being the common name, then all common names become suspect. It’s not a big deal with yellowjacket, but what if someone wanted to call a species of ant a Pharaoh ant and another person wanted to call that same ant an Egyptian ant, then we aren’t talking the same language anymore. So they really should use the ESA Common Names List.”
Pretty good food for thought. What do you think?
While I had Cranshaw on the phone, I asked him about the correct common name for a pest PCT sees multiple variations on: the Indian meal moth, often seen in print (and until recently in the ESA Common Names List) as Indianmeal moth. Funny I should ask, he said. “We just changed it in February,” Cranshaw said. “That should have been three words — Indian meal moth — but it was two words (Indianmeal moth) due to a typo in the 1920s. I talked to a lot of folks who work with stored grain pests and they had wanted it changed for a long time.”
The author is Internet editor and managing editor of PCT magazine and can be contacted at email@example.com.