The Arabs say خروف, the Catalans say ovella, the Chinese say 羊, but the Spanish apparently say Ovis orientalis aries

Can something be done about the nutters who use scientific rather than common names for Wikipedia articles, or is it time to call the whole thing off?

The English-language Wikipedia’s article naming policy follows the encyclopaedia tradition and is sensible and straightforward:

Articles are normally titled using the name which is most commonly used to refer to the subject of the article in English-language reliable sources. This includes usage in the sources used as references for the article.

Article titles should be neither vulgar nor pedantic. Common usage in reliable sources is preferred to technically correct but rarer forms, whether the official name, the scientific name, the birth name, the original name or the trademarked name.

The following are examples of common names[2] that Wikipedia uses as article titles instead of a more elaborate, formal, or scientific alternative,

The Spanish-language version is less explicit but its message is the same:

En general, los artículos deberían residir en el nombre más comúnmente usado para el tema sobre el que el artículo trata. Otros nombres menos utilizados, pero que podrían ser referidos, deberían nombrarse en el artículo y ser páginas de redirección, es decir, páginas cuyo único contenido sea #REDIRECCIÓN [[artículo principal]].

So how did the Spanish-language entry for sheep end up being called Ovis orientalis aries, which no Spanish speaker in his right mind would describe as the common name?

I suppose one potential justification would be that both carnero and oveja have been widely used to designate the domestic sheep.
The DRAE says that carnero is used to refer to the species and oveja to a female carnero, and carnero is indeed used in this way in for example a diary of the Jamancia rebellion in Barcelona. The DRAE’s generalisation is however patently wrong: many current-day speakers have no idea what a carnero is and use oveja indiscriminately to refer to rams, ewes, wethers, lambs etc as well as frequently to goats, and there is substantial historical evidence for this blow against the tendency to masculine assimilation, as in for example this passage from Andrés Bello’s excellent 1847 Gramática de la lengua castellana, destinada al uso de los americanos:

Cuando hai dos formas para los dos sexos, nos valemos de la masculina para designar la especie, prescindiendo del sexo: así hombre, autor, poeta, leon, se adaptan a todos los casos en que se habla de cosas que no conciernen particularmente a la mujer o a la hembra… Pero esta regla no es universal, pues a veces se prefiere la forma femenina para la designación de la especie, como en paloma, gallina, oveja. Fuera de eso, cuando ce habla de personas apareadas lo mas usual es juntar ambas formas para la designación del par, el presidente i la presidenta, el rejidor i la rejidora; bien que se dice los padres por el padre i la madre, los reyes por el rei i la reina, los abuelos paternos o maternos por el abuelo i la abuela en una de las dos líneas, los esposos por el esposo i la esposo. Muchas otras observaciones pudieran hacerse sobre esta materia; pero los ejemplos anteriores darán alguna luz para facilitar el estudio del uso, que es en ella bastante vario i caprichoso.

So a possible explanation might be disagreement over the relative merits of two reasonable choices, carnero and oveja, leading to the selection of something of no use to anyone, Ovis orientalis aries. One could go on to compare this the process that led to the PP electing Mariano Rajoy; or to the lack of a regional airport strategy, which has led to Spanish local authorities competing with each other to bribe Ryanair, whose biggest market is now unsurprisingly Spain; or one could suggest renaming the English article on sheep to accommodate Australian use of jumbuck.

But the use of scientific rather than common names on the Spanish-language Wikipedia appears to operate even when there are no feasible reasons for it: perro is Canis lupus familiaris, caballo is Equus ferus caballus, and, perhaps silliest of all in its reductionism, humano is Homo sapiens.

So why is some deranged individual or collective doing this? Is it an elitist project to make information inaccessible to non-Latinists? Have butchers been forewarned that the next generation of customers may use rather unusual vocabulary when ordering their cuts?

–Good morning, can I have a pound of loin of Sus scrofa domestica?
–Certainly Sir, would you like it wrapped or in anum?

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  1. Maybe they could be persuaded to study this and then go and do something useful over here.

    I’m curious about substitution carnero -> oveja as the generic name. Is it something to do with the long-germ decline in the relative importance of meat as opposed to wool? My Corpus del Español query is unreliable for the Middle Ages–you’ve got a whole host of alternative words (morueco, mardal, marón) and spellings (oueilla, oueyia, ovellia)–but it does illustrate the Golden Age wool boom with a remarkable subsequent decline, even as printing took off:

    Of course it also shows that the RAE is talking bollocks in its entry for carnero. Their rudimentary etymology (Del lat. [agnus] carnarÄ­us, [cordero] de carne) also strikes me as dodgy.

  2. Sorry, Mel, I don’t remember what I was getting at.

    I’ve also donned my llama suit and realised that not caring about anything else than my daily burden and procreation has its advantages. Much on the same level, I’ve decided to refrain from spitting in the near future.

  3. If you spit well, and your spit stays airborne for a considerable period of time (I’m talking decades), then I suppose you’re spitting in the distant future.

  4. Spanish Wikipedia editors have some pretty odd policies. Toponyms are a similar case. I understand the necessity of using Spanish names, wherever they make sense. But names like “San Quirico de Tarrasa” are just plain silly.

    BTW: how come toponyms MUST be in Spanish but animal names can be in Latin? The language policy seems to be a bit broken.

  5. Possibly, it should be called Scalpendilupi. Which has a nice ring to it. Sorry for the multiple nonsenses.

  6. Maybe we should waste the next year of our lives getting into editing wars, or maybe we should sit back, secure in the knowledge that the only versions taken seriously by anyone except journalists are the English and the German.

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