Feature Christmas 2010: Surgery

Middle ear instrument nomenclature: a taxonomic approach

BMJ 2010; 341 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.c5137 (Published 13 December 2010) Cite this as: BMJ 2010;341:c5137
  1. John S Phillips, otology/neurotology fellow1,
  2. Matthew J Mason, lecturer2,
  3. Heather Dixon, student2
  1. 1Rotary Hearing Clinic, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, Canada V6Z 1Y6
  2. 2Department of Physiology, Development and Neuroscience, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK
  1. Correspondence to: J Phillips john.phillips{at}mac.com

Starting from a common origin in the early 17th century, the divergent evolution of the English language between North America and Great Britain holds a great deal of interest for linguists, but is a source of confusion to the unwary traveller.1 An example of such confusion arose when the lead author of this article, trained in the UK as an otolaryngologist, found that his use of the term “crocodile forceps”—referring to the commonly used surgical instrument used to perform delicate middle ear surgery—met with bewilderment in US and Canadian hospitals (fig 1). There, as it turned out, the term “alligator forceps” was prevalent.

Fig 1 Hartmann Alligator Micro-Forceps, model MCO13B. Manufactured by Microfrance Incorporated. Medtronic Xomed, Jacksonville, FL (reproduced with permission)

To avoid such communication problems, biologists maintain strict rules relating to their formal nomenclature. The earliest binomial for an organism, published within or since Carl Linnaeus’s Species Plantarum (1753; for plants) or the first volume of his 10th edition of Systema Naturae (1758; for animals), is by international convention considered to be the only valid name.2 On further investigation, however, an organism can be reclassified as belonging to a different genus, whereupon its scientific name can properly be changed.

In the interests of scientific clarity, a dispassionate investigation of the correct terminology for these forceps is clearly long overdue. We address this important issue both through establishing priority of nomenclature within the literature and through original investigations of jaw morphology. Modern crocodyliforms within the suborder Eusuchia appeared in the Cretaceous period3 …

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