Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Word of the Day (October 28, 2012)

The word of the day is anquilosaurio.  I ran into it recently in a scientific journal, and thought that it had an interesting story.    

All scientifically-classified animals have a scientific name, and most modern animals also have one or more common names.  For example, there is a bird, common in parking lots, known by the scientific name Passer domesticus (indicating the genus and species) and the common name house sparrow.  A scientific name is Latinate in form; it is usually formed from Latin or ancient Greek roots, but it can be formed from elements of any language as long as they are rendered compatible with Latin grammatical structures.  And a common name is in whatever language is used where the animal lives.  

Non-avian dinosaurs have no common names, as they lived millions of years before any humans were alive to bestow common names. But a dinosaur is often given a sort of improvised common name by "de-Latinizing" the scientific name (or a name higher up in its taxonomic nomenclature).  For example, the dinosaur Tyrannosaurus is given the common name of tyrannosaur by dropping the Latinate -us ending.  And any dinosaur in the family Tyrannosauridae can be called by the common name tyrannosaurid, which results from dropping the Latinate -ae.

This principle, applied to dinosaurs of the suborder Ankylosauria, results in the English common name ankylosaur.  And, as I recently learned, that English common name, rendered into Spanish, yields anquilosaurio.  I had never considered the possibility of the improvised English common name of a dinosaur being changed into a foreign common name, but evidently it does happen.  A word is built from ancient Greek roots, given a Latin suffix, has the Latin suffix removed to form an English word, and then has its spelling changed to fit the rules of Spanish . . . all for an animal that lived more than 65 million years ago.  

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