August 29, 2002
Never Trust Spellcheck

Steven Chapman (formerly Daddy Warblogs) links to an amusingly nasty Spiked Online review by Helene Guldberg of a book by some idiot environmentalist. The first paragraph caught my eye, partly for professional reasons:

According to Gray, we shouldn't be too concerned about whether humans have a future on Earth - it is the balance of the world's ecosystem that we should really be worried about: 'Homo rapines [what a clever play on words] is only one of very many species, and not obviously worth preserving. Later or sooner, it will become extinct. When it is gone the Earth will recover.' Charming...

Actually, "Homo rapines" is not particularly clever, and Gray surely wrote "Homo rapiens". That is clever, in a supercilious, academic, only-witty-if-you-know-Latin way. Since "rapiens" is not an English word, a spellchecker must have suggested "rapines" as a correction, and it appears that some editor, either at the book's publisher or at Spiked Online, was foolish enough to believe the stupid software. So much for the natural superiority of edited texts.

Both sapiens and rapiens are present participles. The first means "having sense; wise, prudent, sensible" (also "having a taste or flavor", but that meaning of Homo sapiens would only suit cannibals and animal predators), while the second means "seizing and carrying off, snatching, dragging away, carrying off by force, robbing, ravishing, plundering, ravaging, laying waste, taking by assault", and so on. That is clearly the meaning Professor Gray has in mind, and "rapines" doesn't quite suffice to bring it out. There is also an implication of rape in rapiens, since the English word is etymologically related, though rapiens would normally mean "abducting, carrying off" rather than forcing someone to have sex right on the spot.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at August 29, 2002 12:29 AM