Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0005194, Fri, 23 Jun 2000 08:28:21 -0700

Nabokov's Thecla caramba, and more (fwd)
From: Kurt Johnson <belina@dellnet.com>

For those who resonated in anyway with the story of Nabokov's Blue [ala Sam
Schuman] and the moth Enema pan (pronounced Eneema) I felt that before I
leave the USA for a couple weeks I might impart a couple other classic, and
amusing, lepidopteral anecdotes that spin off Nabokov's now well known
"prank" of adding an imaginary identification "Thecla caramba" to a
colleagues specimens to confuse and annoy/amuse him. Of course, readers of
N's Blues and N's Butterflies by now know that this species "caramba" of
Nabokov's survives today as Cyanophrys caramba (Clench) an SE Brazilian
hairstreak butterfly. Without Nabokov's prank pulled on Harry Clench, there
would be no such species.

Consistent with this history/practice in lepidoptery let me mention a few
other amusing butterfly names. Although the CODE forbids "joke" names, some
have sneaked in over the years by the pluck of taxonomists. Nabokov's
caramba might be offered as an example of such circuitous contributions.
Here are some of the other favorites of lepidopterists, for your amusement.
Of course, Enema pan, results from a new combination of older names.

However, the following gems have been sneaked in by lepidopterists since
Nabokov's prank--

Inca dincadu (a skipper butterfly) [The genus Inca is well known, the
species is supposedly pronounced dinCAHdu, after an Indian town name; it
sneaked in that way, to reprise Jimmy Durante's famous song, without being

The genus moth Genessebia (pronounced Genesee Biar [= "Beer" with a northern
New York accent, after a popular northern NY Beer); sneaked in by a northern
NY lepidotperist and not caught.

The moth genus Frickinidia. Sneaked in by a New York lepidopterist and not
caught ALTHOUGH the type species "steinbrenneri" [i.e. Frickinidia
steinbrenneri, to roast George Steinbrenner, the sometimes unpopular owner
of the NY Yankees!] was caught and rejected by the reviewers. I don't think
too many people will appreciate having patronyms named for them in this

The moth tribe Boarmiini (Bore me ini) for a group of apparently very boring
moths. These moths, however, bring up the topic of several groups of moths
mentioned by Nabokov himself in Speak, Memory/ The Gift (those Nabokov
called "pugs etc.", among others) whose larvae bore into roots and find
their nourishment there. This trait has led to a number of scientific
papers wherein the authors sneaked in amusing titles like:

"A New Boring Moth from....."
"Another Boring Moth from...."
"Yet Another Boring Moth from..."
"More Boring Moths from..."

My own contribution to the cause was published in 1995-- the species
Antephrys prestoni (Genus well known, species named for Floyd Preston, a
prominent lepist. Given the usual parlance for common names, it would take
the common name "Preston's Antephrys" [Prestone's Antifreeze]).

There are others but, as you can see, the temptation to circuitously
circumvent the Code and render joke names is quite common in lepidoptery.
When lepidopterists gather for a few drinks, their stories of local and
regional "joke" names often come up. In fact, a scientist at the British
Museum was generating a list a few years back, although I don't know what
came of it. That's how I learned about "Enema [sorry, "Eneema"] pan".

Kurt Johnson