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What's in a Name (Was: RAPTOR WRONG)

Brian Franczak's article on the misue of the term "raptor" is indicative
of one of paleontology's more deeply rooted problems--namely, the very
confusing choice of words/names that paleontologists use in their
profession. As Mr. Franczak points out, the suffix "-raptor" is used to
describe a wide variety of sometimes totally unrelated dinosaurs. Part of
the problem is that paleontologists seem to show a singular lack of
foresight and intuition in coining their jargon. Back when this list was
young, there was a thread about the contradictory etymology of "theropod"
and "ornithopod." Quite clearly the tracks of theropods look much more
bird-like than do the tracks of ornithopods. I've always thought that it's
very difficult for the lay public to understand that all Tyrannosaurus
were tyrannosaurs, but not all tyrannosaurs were Tyrannosaurus. Then
there's Ankylosauria/Ankylosauridae/Ankylosaurus. Then we have the name
"Oviraptor" which no longer fits the creature it was given to. Under
different circumstances, the animal now known as "Oviraptor" might have
been named "Maiasaura" <g> It's almost as if paleontologists deliberately
choose ambiguous terms to engender an esoteric quality to the profession.
If you choose confusing word roots, you're going to confuse people.

In Jurassic Park, Crichton's use of the term "raptor" was as much a plot
device as a nickname. The doctor heard a victim use the term in delirium
and she looked it up in a dictionary and found the true scientific
meaning. The coincidence between the dictionary word and the nickname
built up the suspense. Could the victim's wounds really have been caused
by a bird of prey? That's what I call the "oh, if they only knew" plot

I doubt that there will be any serious damage caused by the public's
misunderstanding of the word. Kids who get hooked on dinosaurs from
watching JP/LW will eventually learn the difference. Remember the sauropod
coming out of the swamp and devouring the guy in "King Kong"? That was a
more serious error, but all those kids who got hooked on dinosaurs
watching King Kong eventually discovered that sauropods were herbivores.

Sure, lay public and kids will still use the term "raptor" improperly. But
they use lots of words improperly. They use "animal" and "mammal"
interchangeably. They use "animal" to mean non-human creatures, forgetting
that humans are animals, too They use "insect" in reference to spiders.

Language is a living, evolving thing. Etymologists will tell you:
"Language is what people speak--not what they should speak." 

----- Amado Narvaez