Who is Who in Terminology: Carolus Linnaeus (1707-1778) – A guest post by Bart Bulens

This post has been written by Bart Bulens (https://www.linkedin.com/in/bartbulens), who also took Pompeu Fabra’s Course on Foundations of Terminology. He wrote this excellent biography and summarized Linnaeus contribution to Terminology and I just had to ask him to allow me to publish it. I thank him and Pompeu Fabra for letting me share this interesting information which is part of the valuable material that the University shared with us during their classes. I hope you enjoy this great story as much as I did!

Carl_von_LinnéCarolus Linnaeus / Carl Linnaeus / Carl von Linné (1707-1778)

Terminologist, avant la lettre


Towards the dawn of the 17th century, the science of scientific naming commenced. Plants and animals were still categorized using long polynomial Latin names, which consisted of known and morally acceptable characteristics of the organisms in question, all this in an ancient-old tradition where the local focus was a dominant factor.

When people working with plants and animals started trying to formally name things and to consistently use those names in the 18th century, they were confronted with increased diversity.
The local focus was gradually expanding to recently discovered lands, such as the New World.

The 18th century was also the age of Carolus Linnaeus, a Swedish medical doctor and therefore also a botanist, for doctors had to study botany given the fact that all medicine had been based on herbalism until the mid-1700s. As a result, botanical taxonomy had been brought to life by the need of doctors, like himself, to correctly identify plants.

Sexual System and Natural Characterslinnaeus-systema-naturae_115051_1

Linnaeus’ first achievement within taxonomy was the invention of the sexual system. Instead of a plant’s totality (the herbalist approach), he focused on one particular natural character and then organized all plants based on that. He encountered (social/moral) disapproval at first because of the male and female parts of plants he picked as characters, but the accessible and straightforward nature of his system soon became critically acclaimed. Linnaeus was also interested in other living organisms. After collecting an enormous variety of both plants and animals, he felt the need for a system in nature, in order to describe all the Creator’s gifts to Earth. That is why he considered this task as finite.


Linnaeus’ second achievement within taxonomy accidentally originated from his book called Species Plantarum (1753). It was a list, organized according to the sexual system (genera), of all the plants he knew at that time. It would completely change the way in which things were named.
With polynomials getting longer and even unmanageable due to more and more species being discovered in the New World, Linnaeus added a ‘trivial name’ with two parts to each plant. The binomial names he created were meant to be easily remembered and to help refer to the plant’s ‘correct’ polynomial name. However, people soon started replacing the ‘correct’ polynomials by the easier binomial names. As a result, the polynomials were being entirely replaced by the binomials, which in turn acquired the status of correct names.

Main Terminological Consequences

The main terminological consequences of the aforementioned needs (and practices) can be considered from different perspectives.

– From an applied point of view:

  1. As a professional group, taxonomists were able to agree on a set of rules for naming within their discipline. All current botanical naming still begins with Linnaeus’ Species Plantarum (1753) and animal naming with his tenth edition of Systema Naturae (1759).Species_plantarum_001
  2. In both of his essential works, Linnaeus provides proof of the interest the real protagonist (specialist) has always had in the fixation of scientific concept denominations in order to represent and/or communicate specialized knowledge.
  3. Species Plantarum is terminography work in the current sense: a systematic subject and an organized practice.
  4. Linnaeus was the first scholar to bring up the necessity of subject specialists for classification and name-giving activities.
  5. Linnaeus was the first to engage in harmonization efforts with regard to (new) denominations.

– From a disciplinary point of view:

In each of the different conceptions regarding the disciplinary definition of Terminology, Linnaeus can be considered as an essential element:

  1. In the sense of an independent discipline, Terminology is historically related to Natural Science and Taxonomy;
  2. In the sense of a transdiscipline, Terminology is a part of or an appendix to Natural Science and Taxonomy;
  3. In the sense of an interdiscipline, Terminology has developed its own scientific domain by taking specific elements from Natural Science and Taxonomy, among others. Here, it is very clear that Terminology substantially originated from Taxonomy, and that Linnaeus must be considered at least as a founding father of the foundations of Terminology as a discipline, thanks to his efforts towards the foundations of Natural Science and Taxonomy, a crucial scientific field for the development of Terminology as we know it today.


  1. http://www.nhm.ac.uk/nature-online/science-of-natural-history/taxonomy-systematics/history-taxonomy/session1/
  2. Terminology: History and Organization [online]. In Grup IulaTerm. Online Postgraduate Course of Foundations of Terminology. Barcelona: IULA. Universitat Pompeu Fabra, 2015. http://eventum.upf.edu/event_detail/1401/detail/online-terminology-program.-english-edition-2014-2016.html [Consultation: 02/03/2015]


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