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    Re: Constellation names.
    From: Trevor Kenchington
    Date: 2003 Nov 1, 20:52 -0400

    I learnt both "Big Dipper" and "Plough" as a kid, in England in the
    1960s. If the former is an Americanism, it seemed well ingrained in
    English English by then. However, neither is a synonym for "Ursa Major"
    or "Great Bear" -- the "Plough" is an asterism, not a constellation, in
    that it comprises only some of the stars in Ursa Major.
    As to the use of Latin names versus the vernacular: The former has
    always struck me as a bit pretentious outside of the astronomic
    community (whether professional or avocational). To draw a parallel: As
    a some-time professional marine biologist, I well know what Scomber
    scombrus is and, to me, the name produces a mental image of the fish
    without first needing translation into English, whether I hear it spoken
    or see it written. However, I'd think that anyone who asked for
    "Scomber" in a grocery store, when they wanted to buy mackerel for
    dinner, was more than a bit weird. In much the same way, anyone
    insisting on "Ursa Major" rather than "Great Bear", while in mixed
    company, seems to have crossed an ill-defined line. The obvious
    exceptions are the astrological constellations, whose Latin names are
    part of everyday English.
    You also asked:
    > When American kids learn about the sky in college, how are the
    > constellations named in their star maps?
    What makes you think that American kids, other than those few who take
    courses in astronomy, ever learn about the constellations? Given recent
    statistics, put out by the National Geographic Society, concerning the
    (in)ability of young adults in the U.S. to find Iraq, or even the United
    Kingdom, on a map of the world, I'd doubt that many of them have even
    passing familiarity with the night sky. (No insult intended to those
    U.S. citizens who do take geography, astronomy and/or navigation
    seriously. The problem seems to be that the majority don't learn the
    basics, not that the specialists don't understand the details.)
    Trevor Kenchington
    Trevor J. Kenchington PhD                         Gadus@iStar.ca
    Gadus Associates,                                 Office(902) 889-9250
    R.R.#1, Musquodoboit Harbour,                     Fax   (902) 889-9251
    Nova Scotia  B0J 2L0, CANADA                      Home  (902) 889-3555
                         Science Serving the Fisheries

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