New woke taxonomy: a special pronoun added to a species’ name

June 1, 2021 • 9:30 am

Bret Weinstein and Heather Heying have made a video about a new scientific paper in which two biologists name a new species of ant—but according to woke specifications. They named the ant after a person (this kind of naming is likely to stop when people discover that nobody in the world has ever been perfect), but instead of putting the customary “i” after a male name or “ae” after a female name, they used “they” as a plural pronoun. This, as the authors describe, is to honor people who “do not identify with conventional binary gender assignments.”

The new ant species’ name, Strumigenys ayersthey, with the “they” appended to Ayers’s name) is in honor of Jeremy Ayers, a potter from Athens, Georgia. Did Ayers used “they” as his pronoun? I have no idea. New Scientist reports that he was gay, but gay people don’t use “they” pronouns unless they identify as multiple genders at once. From New Scientist‘s piece on the name:

Ayers was a protégé of Andy Warhol in the 1970s under the pseudonym of Silva Thinn. He died in 2016. “He identified as a gay man outside of his Warhol character, but I’m naming it after him with the suffix added to include all non-binary people for his activism,” says Booher.

In other words, they’re honoring not the man’s open homosexuality, but genderfluidity in general. Is that the place of a scientific paper?

And a famous musician contributed to this name:

Booher also asked Michael Stipe, the lead singer of the band R.E.M. and a mutual friend with Ayers, to join him in writing the etymology section of the paper outlining the new species:

Click on the screenshot to read the paper:

A picture of one individual of S. ayersthey:

Here’s how they named it.

Etymology. Many cultures have recognized a spectrum of genders between and beyond the binary of male and female. However, by following a rule exampled in the International Code of Nomenclature (ICZN 1999) for how to name species after individuals, one might conclude only binary gender assignments possible when assigning new species names derived from Latin. Dubois (2007) provides clarification to this rule stating that there is no need to amend or Latinize personal names – and therefore no need to assign gender. In contrast to the traditional naming practices that identify individuals as one of two distinct genders, we have chosen a non-Latinized portmanteau honoring the artist Jeremy Ayers and representing people that do not identify with conventional binary gender assignments, Strumigenys ayersthey. The ‘they’ recognizes non-binary gender identifiers in order to reflect recent evolution in English pronoun use – ‘they, them, their’ and address a more inclusive and expansive understanding of non-neutral gender identification. Strumigenys ayersthey sp. nov. is thus inclusively named in honor of Jeremy Ayers for the multitude of humans among the spectrum of gender who have been unrepresented under traditional naming practices. Jeremy was a multifaceted and beloved Athens-based (GA, USA) artist and activist whose humanity and achievements defied the limits of categorized classification. Jeremy brought an intellectual and playful, Pan-like curiosity to every aspect of his life. He was a writer, philosopher, painter, musician, activist, photographer, gardener, and exploder of boundaries who transformed the culture that surrounded him. His deep appreciation of the variety and minute details of the natural world astounded all who knew him. In the spirit of Jeremy, we also propose that the -they suffix can be used for singular honorific names of non-binary identifiers in compliance with the ICZN.

But did he refer to himself as “they”? I doubt it. If Ayers did use “they”, as a reader below points out, why do the very authors of the paper repeatedly refer to him as a “he” or “him”?

The video below by Bret Weinstein and Heather Heying is devoted entirely to this paper, which they see as mostly traditional taxonomy but with some performative wokeness tacked on. As they note, taxonomists often put “i” for names after males (e.g., Atelopus coynei), or “ae” on species names dedicated to a woman, but they add, according to Dubois (2007), that if you look at interpretations of the zoological code of nomenclature, neither “i” nor “ae” endings need be used, and you can just use an unmodified name (Strumigenys ayers).

Ants, of course, have only two sexes, like nearly all animals, so the “they” is meant to make a political point that has nothing to do with ants, nor, in any obvious way, with Ayers himself. It seems to be a way to use the scientific literature to flaunt your ideology. With respect to that, Bret says,  “If you want to have that discussion abut whether or not we should change the language, all right, we can have that discussion; but we are borrowing the scientific literature to pull a fast one, and you’re doing so in the context of creatures that, frankly, so predate any of this this human absurdity that the idea of sort of imposing it on them as if it’s their obligation to broadcast your virtue is just. . . absurd.”

I can’t get as worked up about this as are Bret and Heather, as I’m getting used to and inured to this kind of silly performance, but I do agree with the two that it’s performative wokeness, and will accomplish virtually nothing to help the acceptance of those who use “they” as their pronoun. Nearly all of us are already happy to do that, anyway, and who is going to read this bit of ant literature and feel empowered? Will someone read it and say, “Hey, I should use ‘they’ pronouns more readily if someone wants that.” ? But we already do! I can’t help but agree with Bret that this in indeed “virtue broadcasting”, with the message being, “Here’s a new ant, and, by the way, look how politically savvy and inclusive I am.”

More seriously, does this presage the widespread incursion of woke names and concepts into science? I suspect so, but hope not. Already birders are trying to expunge all the common names of birds which contains a real person’s name, regardless of that person’s “virtue”. At least Atelopus coynei (a frog) is untouchable since it’s the Latin binomial, not a common name (I’s suggest for the latter “Coyne’s poison-arrow frog.”).

Note that in the video below, a cat appears at 8:42.

54 thoughts on “New woke taxonomy: a special pronoun added to a species’ name

  1. I demand all pharmaceuticals now be named as such – enough with this “-ab”, “-ax”, etc. hegemony – I want personal medicine – and that means personal names for all people on all pharmaceuticals! Then the TV will honor all people when they see the ads!

  2. Slightly disturbing for a different reason is this bit:

    the etymology section of the paper outlining the new specie

    This seems to be using “specie” as a back-formed singular in place of “species”. Not the first time I’ve seen this, of course.

      1. Certainly could be that, and the absence of a sentence-ending period could make it a matter of cut-and-paste accident. But it *is* something people unquestionably sometimes do.

  3. I thought misgendering someone is a bad thing. Apparently not.

    The woke’s incessant obsession with other cultures’ “third genders” are ignoring the fact that they’re used to enforce a strict patriarchy: Either to exclude a male from enjoying traditional (in their culture) men’s privilege, or to force females into performing traditional men’s duties. This fetishism of foreign cultures is just baffling to me. In any other context this would (rightfully!) be called racist.

    1. Amazing what a difference one letter makes – I seem to have learned something new about Latin.

    2. Ah, sorry! I wasn’t following the indentation correctly, and thought that passage was something you were quoting.

  4. If they’re super bothered by the Latin male and female endings, they could’ve just used the Latin neutral for they, which is ea. As in archaea. Making it Strumigenys ayersea, quite a nice easy sounding name for fake Latin.

    But as Jerry says, the point here is the performance. I expect using ea wouldn’t have let them signal their virtue loudly enough, so it had to be rejected.

    1. ” … they could’ve just used the Latin neutral for they, which is ea. As in archaea.”

      Another small bump in my Latin – thanks.

      … so far today, this website is great for my education, but not so good for doing actual work!

      1. I suppose “-orum” would also have worked, since this literally means “theirs”.

        What an enormous and pretentious etymology section for a scientific paper. I would catch heat from reviewers for an etymology section that long.

        1. It’s more complicated than that. Latin has 5 declensions, some of which possess neuter paradigms, some don’t, and some are strongly gendered, but there are always exceptions: not all first declension (-a/ae ending) words are feminine, not all second declension (-us/i ending) words are masculine.
          They could have picked -i, -u, -is as endings from the various neuter genitives. Not -orum (that’s plural) nor -ea (that’s plural nominative: the genitive singular is archaeī).

    2. Yeah, the fact they used an English word as the ending struck me more than using a gender neutral ending. This seems to be a conscious choice from the etymology paragraph but it’s not obvious to me why they did this. English is certainly the lingua franca of science, which you could argue is itself a signature of English colonialism, so I would think using an English word would be considered noninclusive in itself. For example, the virtual Evolution conference this year is supposed to have Spanish captions for all videos as a move towards inclusivity. Why not use an underrepresented language in naming the ant?

      1. Yes, pertinent observation. They failed miserably in their virtue signaling, unlike Shubin and Daechsler with the Tiktaalik
        Now the authors will not just be ridiculed by linguists and biologists, they will suffer the wrath of the woke for their despicable colonialist actions.

    3. I thought the same. Latin has a neuter. Learn how the language works before you impose your ethnocentric perspective (see how I turned it around on them?)

      1. My thoughts also. I then thought of Chinese ta, which is entirely gender neutral third person singular, but then, since I was being politically conscious, preferred Cantonese kui – take that, oppressors of Hong Kong.

  5. Two dumb questions – excuse my ignorance:

    1) Doesn’t Latin already have a neuter gender? Couldn’t they just use that?

    2) Is there any body with oversight of naming protocols, or can species be designated in any way that the person creating the name chooses?

  6. Under the bold heading “Etymology”, Weinstein and Heying did not use the “correct” pronouns when describing Jeremy in the three paragraphs before the last. Does this help how I’ve fixed it for them?

    Jeremy brought an intellectual and playful, Pan-like curiosity to every aspect of their life. They was a writer, philosopher, painter, musician, activist, photographer, gardener, and exploder of boundaries who transformed the culture that surrounded them. Their deep appreciation of the variety and minute details of the natural world astounded all who knew them.

    1. I just figured it out. Wokes hate individualism. In their project to destroy the individual and Bring on the Borg, thy valorize (woke word) plural pronouns. This is just a ramp-up to the ultimate goal: destroying “I”

  7. Shame on Booher and Hoenle for forcing an English pronoun into the species name – they are guilty of raw cultural imperialism! [sarcasm, obvs.]

    1. Good grief! Who knew that “Decolonize your mind” would be the answer to all things ecological.

  8. Salve! Before my comment, my bona fides: I took four years of Latin in high school. I also studied Biblical Greek. (Briefly, I was going to be a priest. I left the church and eventually became an atheist.) I competed in statewide Latin contests and came in either first, second, or third every time. I still keep up with Classical studies. (I’ve been enjoying reading SENTENTIAE ANTIQUAE here on WordPress.) The brouhaha that is the subject in the present post results, IMO, from a lack of study of Latin and Greek by students in general and by scientists in particular. Adding to this ignorance of the languages is the (willful?) ignorance of the difference between linguistic gender and biological sex. In the interest of brevity, my bottom line is to keep Latin as Latin and to not make a revolting mash-up of Latin and English as in the proposed “S. ayersthey.” I subscribe to our host’s recommendation, to wit, just use the unmodified name as a type of appositive modifier, viz., “S. ayers.” After all, our host’s primary subject of study is just that type of binomial construction. Let’s parse “Drosophila melanogaster”: The name of the genus is a singular noun in the nominative case and one of the three genders of Latin, either masculine, feminine, or neuter. Thus, “drosophila,” Latinized Greek, feminine nominative singular (first declension), translated as “dew-lover.” The designation of the species is usually an adjective that has to agree with the genus noun in gender, number, and case. In this example, though, the species name is another noun, and this noun is masculine nominative singular, “melanogaster,” again Latinized Greek, translated as “black belly.” An example of the more frequent binomial noun-adjective is “Homo sapiens,” “homo,” masculine nominative singular (third declension), “human;” and “sapiens,” third declension adjective agreeing with the noun, i.e., masculine nominative singular, “wise.” Vale!

    1. What do you think about “-orum” as a more literal alternative, assuming the person being honored actually did like to be addressed as “they”? Of course then we would get into trouble for using the masculine form, I suppose, but technically this is the correct ending even if “they” referred to both male and female subjects.

      1. I get where you’re coming from, Lou. Using the genitive plural is accepted practice in species names. An example that comes readily to mind is the mantis Liturgusa krattorum, “liturgical celebrant of the Kratts,” they being the famous TV zoologist brothers, which makes sense because there are two of them . Still, I favor the simpler solution of just using the unmodified noun as an appositive.

      2. That’s used for male and neutral genitive, but not female, so probably going to run into the same woke issue. Maybe -um would work though.

        1. But in Latin when there are a group of people of different sexes, the male form is used. Yes, not very woke. but technically the most literal translation.

    2. Much appreciated, thank you!

      I now feel the urge to dig out the graffiti scene from “The Life of Brian”. 🙂

  9. Side request for information … why is our species called “Homo Sapiens Sapiens” in some usages? Does it add confusion, or serve a needed purpose?

    1. The second sapiens is the subspecies designation, to distinguish us, the fully modern humans, from the other human subspecies such as Homo sapiens neanderthalensis.

      1. Really? The Ns full taxonomic name is “Homo sapiens neanderthalensis?” And H’s is Homo sapiens habilis?

        1. Yes, the Neanderthals were a H. sapiens subspecies. As far as I know, there is no habilis subspecies of H. sapiens. Homo habilis was a separate species preceding Homo sapiens.

  10. …but I do agree with the two that it’s performative wokeness, and will accomplish virtually nothing to help the acceptance of those who use “they” as their pronoun.

    It may be performative wokeness, and therefore inappropriate in a scientific paper, but if the species name stands it will become an example of compelled speech. Unless we use circumlocutions like “the ant species whose name should not be mentioned”.

  11. I confess to have been ignorant that there was genderization in binomial names. My own take on this one is yes it’s performative, but also its kind of nice (I think). Maybe by these little drips everyone changes their views of non-binary people for the better.

  12. Honoring a gay man by emphasizing the importance of gender over sex seems like a contradiction to me. Homosexuality is traditionally understood to be same-sex attraction. Jeremy Ayers was presumably a male romantically and sexually inclined towards other males — that is, male bodies.

    If “gender” is conceptually substituted in the definition then Ayers would have been romantically and sexually aroused by both kinds of men: those born without, and with, vaginas. To fail to be attracted to the latter is a form of bigotry which at the very least requires apology, if not correction. Not all gay men believe in gender — that being male or female is a matter of internal self-knowledge, “mind sex” — so the problem extends beyond pronouns. Was Ayer explicit about not caring about sexed bodies?

    There’s also the question of whether a homosexual could be attracted to someone who was non-binary absent physical clues about their physical selves.

    People who fall outside a “binary” ultimately reinforce the binary that must exist for them to be outside of. Not feeling like-a-man or like-a-woman is a much more restrictive position than endorsing the view that it doesn’t mean anything to feel “like” either one.

    1. As our host points out, we haven’t a clue whether Ayers referred to himself as ‘they’ or any other alternative . He might even have opposed these ridiculous pronouns. There is no notion he was ‘trans’ in any way, we only know he was gay.
      If the authors wanted to avoid the -i, they could have stuck with Strumigenys ayers. That would have been as inclusive as it gets, but would not allow for such a long virtue signaling passage.

  13. So much of wokeness really is Newspeak and focuses on semantics. Rename gender, rename buildings, remove the names and statues of people you don’t like, police language, words = physical violence. I think it’s become vogue because it’s so easy to do and exacerbated by social media where one can recruit and outraged mob of followers instantly. And whoever suggests it first gets virtue points in social relationships except that it’s a facsimile of addressing real issues which require real work and thinking deeply about difficult problems to find solutions.

  14. Given ignorance is my modus operandi (that’s it for my Latin) and if you’re going to do shit like this then “all” is as neglected just as much as them, they, whatever, and is more inclusive and IMO fits Ayers “humanity and achievements defied the limits…” narrative.
    “Strumigenys ayersall”

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