Man, binomial nomenclature is naughty!

What happens when biologists try to get nerdy license plates? They get rejected for being potentially inappropriate:

A forest ecologist’s application for a personalized license plate in the state of Michigan has been denied on the grounds that “PINUS” looks and sounds too much like “PENIS.” Marvin Roberson, who works for the Sierra Club in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, says he applied for the specialized plate out of arborous love for the white pine (pinus strobus in Latin). However, officials denied his request on the grounds that the plate “might carry a connotation offensive to good taste and decency as judged by the Department of State.”

For the sake of appreciating the juvenile humor, I’m going to ignore the fact that the name of a body part is considered offensive in our society. But really, Pinus isn’t the worst genus you could come up with. Arses, Colon, Bugeranus, Enema, Fartulum, Labia, Orgia, Turdus… Hmmm, us biologists haven’t progressed very far past potty humor, have we?*

I’d love it if scientists could successfully sneak in real “dirty” terms if we’re nerdy enough that the DMV doesn’t recognize them. I think a lot of mammalogists would kill for a BACULUM** license plate!

*If you want to see other silly binomial nomenclature, this site has a great database.

**A baculum is the penis bone found in most mammals (but interestingly, not humans). Mammalogists have a strange and amusing fascination with it, partly for scientific reasons, but partly because it’s funny. Seriously, when I went to the Mammal meetings last year, the most popular merchandise at the auction was carved baculum stuff. Scientists, so weird.


  1. Lofcutus says

    that’s BULL! Just last week, driving around South Bend, I just saw a Michigan plate that reads MORNGWD. It is on a Blue/grey Chevy pickup.It’s just one ignorant person imposing their closed off mindset on others.(edit: I did not get a pic, but I tweeted as soon as I saw it.)

  2. TerilynnS says

    Smart people, in my purely non-scientific experience, also seem to enjoy the colorful world of fart humor (whoopee cushions are still hilarious); poop jokes (Archaeologists in particular); oh heck – any bodiy function joke; and I have also seen a particular fondness for Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner cartoons. <3 It’s all good.

  3. mcbender says

    Gah. So much better than most of the garbage I see on “vanity” license plates… a series of random letters and numbers is so much more elegant most of the time.

  4. says

    How about Clitoria?Pinus should be pronounced exactly like Penis, at least according to my plant taxonomy professor. We used the incorrect term when discussing pines.

  5. Lynn Wilhelm says

    By the way same professor mentioned above studied Clitoria. I was a bit taken aback when he offered me a plant and emphasized the name.

  6. says

    Let’s not forget seemingly perverted chemical names!I’ve been wanting a shirt that immortalizes the Arsenic version of Thiol rings, colloquially known as “arsoles”;…There’s also fun stuff like; Moronic Acid Spermine (what makes sperm smell!) Bastardane (named because it’s the bastard of two molecules…) Fucitol (acid of fucose sugar) Erotic Acid (Orotic Acid, but it got misspelled so much the IUPAC recognizes the typo. Add another carbon in the right place and it can be Homo-Erotic Acid too!)And that’s without diving into minerals;Cummingtonite (Named after Cummington, MA)Fukalite (Named after Fuka, Japan)Dickite (Discovered by Dr. Thomas Dick)There are also innocuous and fun ones;ChurchaneFenestrane (Also known as Windowpane)Because they look like a little church (with steeple) and a window.

  7. Steve T. says

    Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me told the story a year or so ago of a woman who was crazy about cooking with tofu and wanted to express it on her license plate. Again, it was rejected as obscene. What she wanted, boiled down to the maximum of seven letters, was:ILVTOFU

  8. says

    Sort of tempts me to get a “PENIS” (or other ‘naughty’ thing) plate, but deep down I know the novelty would wear off pretty quickly. Still, dumb rule. I wonder if Trucknutz are legal in Michigan?

  9. skepticalmedia says

    A vegetarian and lover of Tofu recently had her request for a custom license plate denied as well. The Tofu-lover wanted her plate imprinted with “‘ILVTOFU”.I didn’t provide the link, but if you Google the above phrase… articles will substantiate.

  10. Ryan says

    Don’t forget other geology terms;two-way cleavagethree-way cleavagefour-way(!) cleavage…knockersorogenythrust faultspreading ridgehorst and grabenoverturned bedscross-beddingdry holesubduction zonesheeted dikespillow lava

  11. Richard says

    Saw this vanity plate years ago in New Jersey: MERDEI imagine that person had their daily juvenile laugh at the DMV.

  12. the_Siliconopolitan says

    I recall hearing it suggested that the ‘rib’ God took from Adam to make Eve is supposed to be a reference to the missing human baculum.

  13. says

    Jen, I just want to say, one of the reasons I love your blog so much is that I’m always learning something new. And usually hilarious (though occasionally outraging). Like today. I’m gonna be on the lookout for “baculum” license plates from now on! :D~Lia

  14. bruce says

    Here in the UK, someone was issued the plate ‘PEN 15’, No-one in the government dept. realised. It’s on wiki now.


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