Ass and Name
Zola and Zoilus
A few Neos
What's in a Nem?
Pleo III-Two More Pleons
Achron.. and Acroam..
Per IV--Perpotation et al.
Per and Pre--Prevenient
Perpense and Perpend
Epi I--Epiplexis, et al.
The Doric Column
Epi III--Episemon et al.
Two Kinds of Pelag
But Not Yet--Dealing First with Benthos
I thought I had sorted out the concept of "depth" in the two mini-essays of that name. In those I showed that the basic term is abyss (absym), but it was supplemented by bathos and its friends chiefly after Pope had used the term in the 18th century to contrast with the "heights" in Longinus' description of the sublime. I also introduced (not Ralph) nadir, which originated in zodiacal or sidereal realities. Now I fear I am going to get out of my depth in this essay by introducing another term in this and the next essay, pelagic, derived from the Greek word for "sea."
A Diversion--Getting Out of My Depth
Oops, before I reach pelagic I need to explore one other term--benthos--yet another Greek term meaning "depth of the sea." Benthos was a term coined by Ernst Heinrich Philipp August Haeckel (phew), born in 1834 and Professor of Zoology at the University of Jena from 1865-1909, as his name for the flora and fauna at or near the bottom of the sea. So, for him, one could have abyssal benthos, meaning those fauna that dwelled at the very bottom of the sea, in contrast to littoral benthos, which lived closer to land. But, isn't there a problem with this usage? If the word benthos means "depth," which it most assuredly does, then isn't abyssal benthos tautological? It only is not tautological if the word benthos by some kind of elision or slippage could become equated with the flora and fauna of those regions. There is thus an element of confusion that the good professor introduced by his terminology, and this confusion is amply borne out by studying the usages quoted by the OED.
Uses of Benthos
The usages of benthos quoted in the OED tend to reflect the confusion caused by Haeckel, and they refer either to a region of the sea or the dwellers (flora or fauna) of the sea. Presumably the region is the "depths," but how this relates to the abyssal depths is unclear. Which, for example, is deeper? One usage from 1897 talks about three species which creep along the sea bottom, which species it calls the Benthos. So far so good. They are benthic species because they creep along the sea bottom. Good. Benthic as region. Just when I thought, however, that I was understanding something another author talks about "pelagic larvae of benthonic animals" that are "abundant near shore in shallow water." Huh? I thought they were at the bottom of the sea. But now the benthonic animals are in shallow water. Maybe they just get around, but doesn't that impair the clarity of our definition?Then, someone later talks about the divison of marine organisms into three kinds: plankton, which are drifters, nekton or swimmers, and benthos, which are fixed animals. Ah, now we are focusing on the dwellers and not necessarily the region in which they inhabit, but the author has added a twist: the benthonic animals are "fixed." Great. Then, a few years later, someone has the temerity to say that the benthic division (of flora and fauna, I presume), may be divided into the littoral and deep-sea systems. Now benthic seems to have become something of an imperialist, claiming all the sea for itself. I am becoming very confused. Let's finish this up by quoting the previous author, who would like to divide the aforementioned deep-sea system of the benthic creatures into the archibenthic (or upper) zone and the abyssalbenthic (or lower) zone. Wow. Look what is happening. Now the word benthic, whose meaning is not at all clear, has become the stem onto which prefixes may be attached. I know why this is being done. It is so that graduate students and professors can write more papers to clear up the confusion caused by the terminology.
I will have to confess I feel like the plankton that is floating on the sea. Well, I guess I will have to go with the flow, but is it the benthic flow or the abyssal flow or the littoral flow or the pelagic flow? I don't know, but this activity is getting downright bathetic and nearly bathysmal.
Copyright © 2004-2010 William R. Long