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



Amado Narvaez wrote:

> 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.

The choice of the suffix -_raptor_ for unrelated types of dinosaurs is not
inherently confusing (any more that the choice of the suffix -_saurus_ for
unrelated dinosaurs is), it's the mistaken notion that the suffix somehow
implies a *relationship* between unrelated forms. Does anyone out there
(uninformed lay public included) think that _Tyrannosaurus_, _Apatosaurus_,
and _Corythosaurus_ are all in the same dinosaur family because they all
share the same suffix in their name?

> 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.

_Oviraptor_ was aptly named at the time it was discovered. Only recently
has new evidence caused the name to become a misnomer. Just because the
*meaning* of the name has become inappropriate doesn't mean the name is
confusing, however. The animal's name is the animal's name, whatever the
subtext.

> 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.

No paleontologist ever suggested that sauropods were anything but
plant-eaters. But *several* big-name dinosaur paleontologists use the term
"raptor" when refering to dromaeosaurs. *This* is the real cause of
confusion, since by using the inappropriate term, these respected
authorities are confering legitimacy to it.

>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.

Again, no respected scientists are using these inappropriate terms. If
enough research is done, children will discover that spiders are not
insects. But when paleontologists continue to call dromaeosaurs "raptors",
then no one will ever learn that it is inappropriate.

Brian Franczak (franczak@ntplx.net)