Wednesday, August 19, 2015

New Word Wednesday: zoogeography and faunology

Whether you've roamed far and wide through the vast expanse of the English lexicon or stuck to a relatively small plot of vocabulary land, you've probably seen and used the individual parts of today's words numerous times but never thought of putting them together. Nonetheless, biologists have been doing so for a long time.

The word zoogeography is almost self-explanatory to anyone who passed the fourth grade, though its pronunciation might not be obvious to some. 
  • The -geography part is just like the geography class you took in grade school, it's constituent parts all from Greek: geo- for "earth, ground" and -graphy for "written or represented." 
  • The zoo- you know from the field trip that got you out of geography class to look at animals from around the world; it comes from zoe, meaning "life." 
Put them together and you get zoogeography, which involves recording and studying the geographical distribution of animals and the areas where specific types of animals live and roam.

But the zoo in zoogeography isn't pronounced the same as the City Zoo; you've got to pronounce both Os. If you need pronunciation help, you'll find this word in your Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary.

What you won't find there, but will find in the old unabridged second edition (and probably the third, but I don't own a copy of that one), is the word faunology. You know these etymological bits, too. The faun- (think "fauna and flora") simply refers to "animal life," and the -ology is from the Greek logos, meaning (what's the name of this blog again?) "word" or, in this case, "doctrine or science."

So it looks like faunology would be the science of animal life, a synonym of zoology. But it isn't. It's a synonym for zoogeography. Confused yet?
Image of a tiger looking at a map.
Zoogeography is tiger-speak for "restaurant guide."

What's more, faun derives from Latin, and -ology from Greek. It's one of those etymological Frankenwords created by sewing together pieces from different languages. Maybe that's why zoogeography has supplanted faunology in use. At least to Merriam-Webster's lexicographers.

But faunology in relation to zoogeography hasn't completely disappeared. M-W Collegiate defines the word faunistic not as "animalistic" as one might logically conclude, but as "of or relating to zoogeography : FAUNAL."

So a zoogeographer, for example, might create a map of faunistic (instead of zoogeographical) migratory boundaries.

But is this how the words are really used by researchers?

As great as lexicographers can be (and they're some of my favorite people), they are not, by and large, zoogeographers. I would love to find out from someone in the field how these terms are actually used in the wild.