White Shark or Great White Shark?

As social and communicative creatures, we humans sometimes pause to wonder about whether we are using a term correctly.  Is it octopuses or octopi?  Hippopotomuses or hippopotomi?*

The terms "White Shark" and "Great White Shark" both represent the same species, formally known as Carcharodon carcharias.  Most scientists seem to prefer to use the name White Shark, apparently on the grounds that there is no 'greater' or 'lesser' White Shark, there's just one species:  the White Shark. But most lay-people seem to much prefer to use the name Great White Shark or Great White, as though it is important to stress the 'greatness' (size, predatory prowess, charisma, or dangerousness) of this animal.

Personally, I prefer the term White Shark as the vernacular name for Carcharodon carcharias, but it's hard to ignore the countless human fans of this creature who by far preferentially use the terms Great White Shark or Great White.

English is a living language, continually spawning new terms and usages.  When deciding which of several usages is 'correct', those who compile dictionaries employ a simple trick:  whichever usage is most common in periodicals is deemed the preferred usage.  Following this logic, it would seem that Great White Shark would be the preferred term.

Throughout these pages, however, I use the terms White Shark, Great White Shark, and Great White interchangeably simply because doing so affords me maximal flexibility in composing my sentences about this celebrated creature.

* = In case you're curious, the correct usages at least for now are:  octopuses and hippopotomuses, respectively, no matter how clunky or awkward they may seem.


ReefQuest Centre for Shark Research
Text and illustrations R. Aidan Martin
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