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Dinosaur Tales: A Boy and His Word-Hoard

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Like any warm-blooded American boy, I loved dinosaurs. Now that we suspect dinosaurs were warm-blooded like us, and not the cold, slow-moving lizards they were then thought to be, it makes even more sense. Unlike the majority of boys, though, I was also a word-hoarder – before I knew it. The dinosaurs' names fascinated me as much as the beasts themselves. Maybe more.

"Thunder lizard." That's what "brontosaurus" means. The first story I remember writing was a short story I came up with, in first grade I think, called "The Bronto King." It was – you guessed it – about a king who was so powerful he thundered when he walked. It was the word, or technically the root, "bronto-", that really resonated with me.

I felt bad for poor Allosaurus. His name just means "other lizard" – how deflating for a carnivore who was, in his time, quite the badass.

It was a Big Bad of a later period, the Tyrannosaurus Rex, who had the name of all names. I don't think I needed any reference source to know what Tyrannosaurus Rex meant. You could sense his fearsome personality just from his name. No creature, save perhaps the black widow spider, has ever received such a mightily menacing moniker courtesy of the homo sapiens imagination. No marketing guru could have matched it.

Some names just rolled satisfyingly along the tongue without reference to their meanings. Pleisiasaur. Trachodon. Archeopteryx. Diplodocus. Iguanodon. If we hadn't given these ancient animals such musical, mysterious titles, we wouldn't be half so fascinated by them.

I was just as taken with non-saurian prehistoric creatures, and because of their names as much as anything else. Smilodon was obviously a huge, deadly cat who leered at you before he tore you to shreds with his sabre-teeth. The glyptodon was as weird-looking as he sounds. The very name of the dire wolf just radiated trouble, even before you saw how big she was. And my favorite: the megatherium, an extinct, five-ton relative of the sloth who was just, well, mega.

Don't get me started on the coelocanth, an ancient fish thought to have been extinct since dinosaur times, but rediscovered in the 20th century. I could go on, but you get the idea. Until next time – see you in the fores', allosaurus.

About Jon Sobel

Jon Sobel is an Executive Editor of Blogcritics as well as lead editor of the Culture & Society section. As a writer he contributes most often to Culture, where he reviews NYC theater; he also covers interesting music releases. He writes the blog Park Odyssey, for which he is visiting and blogging every park in New York City—over a thousand of them. Through Oren Hope Marketing and Copywriting you can hire him to write or edit whatever marketing or journalistic materials your heart desires. By night he's a working musician: lead singer, songwriter, and bass player for Whisperado, a member of other bands as well, and a sideman.
  • http://joannehuspek.wordpress.com Joanne Huspek

    What is it about dinosaurs that captures the minds of little boys? Excellent piece.

  • http://jonsobel.com/ Jon Sobel

    I’m no psychologist, but I’d bet it involves the combination of their hugeness and their extinction – they’re like monsters, but they’re not scary, because they’re extinct. At the same time they’re even cooler than fantasy creatures, monsters, Transformers, superheroes, what have you, because they’re real.

  • http://blogcritics.org Lisa McKay

    Plus, there’s the added benefit of being able to take a trip to the natural history museum and see actual dinosaur skeletons, which is something you can’t do with fantasy creatures!