Re: Ratty and Rat Rights

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From:"J. A. Kiernan" <>
To:Simon Smith <>
Content-Type:TEXT/PLAIN; charset=US-ASCII

On Fri, 21 Apr 2000, Simon Smith wrote:

> mouse = murine  [ Latin: mus = mouse  or  rat ] ...
> goat = caprine.....etc
> So what's a rat?  
> Rattine would be a logical choice but isn't particularly satisfying, ...

 A wonderful question, and what is the answer? 
 You're quite right that "rattine" is not on: partly because the
 similar word "ratine" (also spelled "rateen") is of French origin,
 meaning a type of loosely woven fabric for clothing. In this day
 and age, we need more than doubling a "t" to make a new word.

 The other -ine  words are all from Latin roots, and so are others
 such as "leporine" (hare) and "leonine" (lion).  The English "rat" 
 comes from the Old English "rat," and was usurped into scientific
 nomenclature in the 18th century as the generic name for rats
 (Rattus norvegicus etc). The Spanish words for rat and mouse are
 almost identical, evidently from rattus rather than the Latin mus.
 The Latin for a rat is "mus." Unfortunately this word is also the
 Latin for mouse, so "murine" should be classically correct for both
 rodents. Scientists, unfortunately, picked on the mouse selectively
 for the descriptive adjective. This is a blatant instance of sizism.
 The ancient Romans discriminated against rats, humiliating them by 
 giving them with the name given to mice. The ignorant Romans must 
 have perceived mice as more lovable or less threatening on account
 of their smaller sizes. 
 If all this came before the Supreme Court of Canada, the rats would
 undoubtedly win the right to be designated as "murine" by whining
 about discrimination on the grounds of sizism. The decision (even
 if it were a 5:4 majority of this august clique of unelected
 twerps) would become The Law, even if it overturned an act of 
 parliament passed by a large majority of the elected representatives
 of the human population of the country. Canadian rats are therefore
 murine in Canada. Let's accept it and avoid a lot of costly

 This does not solve the question in the rest of the world. Rats
 still lack an etymologically consistent modern English adjective 
 that distinguishes them from smaller (or bigger) rodents.

 Sorry not to end with an answer, but perhaps the above remarks 
 will prompt someone else to come up with a ratty adjective that
 hits the spot for all.

 John A. Kiernan,
 Department of Anatomy & Cell Biology,
 The University of Western Ontario,
 LONDON,  Canada  N6A 5C1


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