“Extinctify” Should be a Thing

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It was in Population and Community Ecology course that I first heard the word. My professor, Brent Smith, was lecturing on some aspect of Island Biogeography, when he said, “…and the smaller the island, the higher the probability of a species going extinct–or, as a former student would have stated, the more likely they’ll be extinctified.”

My fellow biologists, I have waited years for this term to catch on, and it hasn’t. I am disappointed that we have failed to force this marvelous, wonderful word into the English vernacular. It’s high time Extinctify became a thing.

Extinctify (ek-STEENK-tih-fī)

(1) verb, transitive: To drive to extinction, to extirpate globally, to cause the demise of a species.

(2) verb, intransitive: To go extinct, for one’s entire species to disappear from the face of the earth.

Extinction is major biological phenomenon. It’s been happening at a background rate of 5 species per year for ages [1], and that rate is now accelerating beyond the mass-extinction threshold [2]. In spite of its prevalence and relevance, the idea of a species disappearing exists only as noun (extinction, the event) and adjective (extinct, the status). The concept wants for a verb–a verb that can imply causality, agency, or intent.*

Let’s take the elementary school example of mass extinction. At the tail end of the Cretaceous Period, an asteroid crashed into earth and eliminated 75% of the world’s multicellular eukaryotic species. You probably saw a sad diagram in your 1st grade Earth-Science textbook book that looked like this:

Public Domain image from Wikimedia Commons

Public Domain image from Wikimedia Commons

Ho-hum, the whole thing seems so blasé. The dinosaurs were like, “Well, I guess it’s time we went extinct,” and so they rolled over and died.

Unacceptable! The vocabulary fails to capture an insane and terrifying idea: a huge space rock burns giant reptiles off the face of the planet! With extinctify in play, the above figure would look more like this:

The term is actually K-Pg extinction now, but whatever.

The term is actually “K-Pg extinctify” now, but whatever.

That’s right: the asteroid extinctified the dinosaurs (along with the pterosaurs & mosasaurs & other beasties).

Extinctify can be applied to more recent events, particularly those in which humanity had a hand. While I recognize that plants, insects, and amphibians are likely suffering the worst of our destructive proclivities, bird art is more readily available for my illustrative pillaging:

moa

Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons

And you tell me–which headline has more pizzaz?

Original Audubon article here.

Original & excellent Audubon article by Barry Yeoman can be found here.

Extinctify isn’t just a word for bygone species, either. It should be a mainstay in the lexicon of conservation writers.

There is a place for poetry and elegance when we pen advocacy for the environment. Effective prose should enlighten the mind to the crisis of biodiversity loss while artfully strumming the heartstrings. However, sometimes it’s better to just cut to the chase. Take the following excerpt from Silent Spring [3] by Rachel Carson about pesticides:

Carson1 Beautiful? Yes. Compelling? Sure. But I think the message would be more efficiently conveyed had she laid it out like this:

Carson2 I think that’s as much argument as extinctify needs. So, my friends & fellow biologists, go forth into the world, say it loud and say it proud. EXTINCTIFY!

If you don’t, at least help me creating streaming software to catalogue, describe, 3-D print, and eventually resurrect paleobiota.

extinctifyGUI

Special thanks to L. Wyatt Carpenter for his patience and guidance with creating the Spotify parody logo in Illustrator, even though he didn’t think it was funny. I should probably thank him for always tolerating my bizarre sense of humor while I’m at it.

FOOTNOTES

*Yeah, that’s right, I just anthropomorphized extinction. Tee-hee.

CITATIONS

1. JH Lawton & R McCredie May. 1995. Extinction rates. Oxford University Press.

2. AD BarnoskyN MatzkeS TomiyaGOU WoganB SwartzTB QuentalC MarshallJL McGuireEmily L. LindseyKC MaguireB Mersey, & EA Ferrer. 2011. Has the Earth’s sixth mass extinction already arrived? Nature 471: 51-57.

3. R Carson. 1962. Silent Spring. Mariner Books.