I encountered the species name Nassarius arcularia and I'm very confused about its construction.

Per Wikipedia, this name refers to a species of "nassa mud snails" or "dog whelks". Wikipedia describes the genus name as

from the Latin word 'nassa', meaning a wickerbasket with a narrow neck, for catching fish. Nassarius would then mean 'someone who uses such a wickerbasket for catching fish'

In other words, Nassarius seems to be formed with the familiar agent noun ending -arius (generally believed to be the ultimate source of English -er), which is masculine in this form. The base word, nassa, is feminine, also what would be expected from its morphology. But that doesn't determine the gender of the derivative.

The other specific names in the genus seem to confirm that the genus name is masculine: Wikipedia shows e.g. "Nassarius coronulus", "Nassarius distortus", "Nassarius jacksonianus".

I'm confused about why the name isn't Nassarius arcularius. In fact, it looks like this exists as a synonym, but Linnaeus switched from "arcularius" to "arcularia". So apparently, a very intentional choice was made to avoid arcularius, but I'm stumped as to why.

The World Register of Marine Species mentions the following list of synonymized names, attributions and commentary:

  • Original name: Buccinum arcularia Linnaeus, 1758
    Synonymised names
  • Buccinum arcularia Linnaeus, 1758 (original combination)
  • Buccinum rumphii Deshayes, 1844
  • Nassa arcularia (Linnaeus, 1758)
  • Nassarius (Nassarius) arcularia (Linnaeus, 1758)· accepted, alternate representation
  • Nassarius (Nassarius) arcularius (Linnaeus, 1758)
  • Nassarius arcularius [sic] (wrong grammatical agreement of species name)


Subspecies Nassarius arcularia arcularius (Linnaeus, 1758) accepted as Nassarius arcularia arcularia (Linnaeus, 1758) (wrong gender agreement (arcularia is a noun in apposition))

The original name Buccinum arcularia does support the statement that some kind of apposition is going on here. But how can arcularia be interpreted as a noun in apposition?

I haven't found arcularia in a dictionary, but per L&S, backed up by Gaffiot (accessed via Logeion), arcularius is used by Plautus as a masculine agent noun derived from arcula and presumed to mean "one that makes little boxes or jewel-caskets". Based on this, the noun arcularia seems to me like it would mean "female coffer-maker", but that doesn't seem in any way more suitable than the masculine "arcularius" (I can think of no reason to form a species name from a masculine and feminine agent noun in apposition rather than having them agree in gender), and so I suspect Linnaeus may actually have intended arcularia as something other than a feminine agent noun.

Wikipedia gives the common name for the species as "casket nassa or the little box dog whelk". Is "arcularia" interpretable as a noun referring to a "casket" or "box" itself? If so, what would be the point of adding the suffix "-aria" to "arcula", since "arcula" by itself seems to already have the meaning "little box"?

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    Pliny, in Naturalis Historia 9.129.1., describes the bucinum as being a small concha. Perhaps Linnaeus has a concha in mind as he uses the word arcularia. In other words, arcularia (maybe) means concha arcularia, and it is being used as an appositive to bucinum, (or "buccinum"). The reference mentions something about an appositive too, I seem to recall.
    – Figulus
    Commented May 29, 2023 at 0:21

1 Answer 1


An arca is a box. An arcula is a small box or jewelry casket. An arcularius is an artisan that makes small boxes.

The use of the term in science refers to animals or fungi that feature small boxes or chambers. In that sense, it is misnomer because it would be better to use the word foris, which means "with small cells or chambers".

Linnaeus' alteration of the word to arcularia is ungrammatical and he is just confusing the word with other forms.

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