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.