Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Latin Lessons with Garth

Dear Friends,

This month’s Hard Taco song, “19 Something,” is about the year Lauren and I got together. She likes to tell the story that on the day we met, I leapt over a couch to introduce myself. That’s absolutely true, but only because I mistakenly thought she was a talent agent for a parkour-themed sitcom.

Did you know? Iguanas are terrible pets. 

Garth was a prickly, loveless, and stinky part of our family for a couple of years when I was in high school. Iguanas won’t breed in captivity, so Garth was probably captured in Mexico as a hatchling. I’m sure this gave him reptilian PTSD, because whenever I tried to pet him, he would sprint back and forth in his terrarium and smash his face against the glass until he had a nosebleed. But other than these phrenetic bouts of self-mutilation, he never moved a muscle. He just basked on his heat rock, unblinking, like one of those street artists who covers themselves with paint and holds perfectly still until you pay them. 

Let me reiterate that iguanas are terrible pets. They are unpleasant to touch, they’re totally disloyal, and if you let them out for even a second, they will run behind your parents’ 600-pound bookshelf and try as hard as they can to freeze to death.

The iguana, however, is not without its redeeming qualities. The first is that it is the coolest thing you’ve ever seen, assuming you’ve never seen a lizard before, or a picture of a lizard, or a Jurassic Park movie.

The second is that the common green iguana is a trinomial tautonym, a term I can’t wait to define for you. A tautonym is the scientific name of a species that is made up of multiple copies of the same word. For instance, Lynx lynx, also known as the Eurasian lynx, is a binomial tautonym. 

A trinomial tautonym is an extremely rare scientific name in which the genus, species, and subspecies are all the same word. Garth was an Iguana iguana iguana. This put him in the exclusive company of the glorious Bison bison bison. Here’s a picture I took at the Toledo zoo proving the existence of a third trinomial tautonym in Ohio.

While we’re discussing the Latin origins of animal names, let’s take a half-step back and talk about the word animals itself. The correct use is in reference to a specific grouping of eukaryotic organisms. For example: 
“That idiot Amtrak lady didn’t want to let me bring pythons on board, even though they are obviously my Support Animals.”

When referring to the entire biologic kingdom, it is more accurate to use the Latin term Animalia.  
“The Chuck E. Cheese animatronic show features diverse Animalia.” 
This also holds true for the words genitals and genitalia. Genitals are a specific arrangement of private parts, while the term genitalia refers to the entire biological kingdom of reproductive organs. For example, reread the sample quotations above, but sub in genitals and genitalia for animals and Animalia. 

An important difference between animals and genitals is that the latter word is always plural. You can take a selfie with an animal, but you can’t take a selfie with a genital. Even if it existed, who would want photographic evidence that you were in the same room? Genitals are like scissorstweezers, pliers or pants, in that they are nouns that are found only in the plural form. Why? Because they always come in pairs. 

But hold on. How exactly to genitals come in pairs? As far as I can tell, there is just one. Or perhaps three, depending on the party in question and how conservative your definition of the word is. 

Which brings me back to my iguana. Garth was a healthy wild-caught reptile who had suffered no injuries other than self-inflicted snout bruises. Clearly, this iguana had normal iguana genitals, but if one was to actually count them, they appeared to be zero in number. He had a grand total of zero genitals. 

Perhaps this explains why iguanas don’t breed in captivity. 

So, in conclusion, the numeric range of genitals includes zero, one, and three. Basically, they come in everything but pairs. 

Or maybe I don’t actually know what the word means. 

With warmest regards,