How do you pronounce a scientific name? What’s the proper pronunciation for this bird species, Tympanuchus phasianellus?

April 1, 2009
Pronunciation of bird names is often debated. This handsome bird's common name, Sharp-tailed Grouse, is easy to pronounce, but how to you pronounce its Latin name, Tympanuchus phasianellus? Photo by Bryan J. Smith via Birdshare. Pronunciation of bird names is often debated. This handsome bird's common name, Sharp-tailed Grouse, is easy to pronounce, but how to you pronounce its Latin name, Tympanuchus phasianellus? Photo by Bryan J. Smith via Birdshare.
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Our short answer is that we usually pronounce it “Sharp-tailed Grouse.” But there’s nothing like pronunciation to get debate rolling among birders. Does “egret” rhyme with “regret”? Does “pileated” start with a “pill” or a “pile”? Does “plover” rhyme with “lover” or, more depressingly, with “over”?

When it comes to scientific names, there’s actually less to worry about. That’s because, as one ornithologist likes to say, all the native Latin speakers (as well as ancient Greek, from which most scientific names are constructed) are long dead. Classical singers have one pronunciation, scholars have another—so naturalists and birders can console themselves there’s no single right answer. In general, though, all vowels are pronounced, with no diphthongs. The double “l” is just a single sound, so you can pretty much read this one off as it is written.

Watch some incredible footage of displaying Tympanuchus phasianellus in our Multimedia section.

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