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Compsognathus prim-a/-us



Bernard Russell once said, ÒScience is what we know; philosophy is what we donÕt
know.Ó  So weÕll skip philosophy and go directly to science: Compsognathus prima
(pronounced, SIN oh saur OP ter iks) means Òsomeone make big mistake.Ó  As 
difficult as the scientific issue is, the grammatical issue is no easy matter 
either, and something can be said to excuse the use of ÔprimaÕ as the species 
designation.  

But first, a short digression -- the word ÔopsÕ, mentioned in one post, 
represents the stem of the Gk ÔopsisÕ, ÔfaceÕ.  This is of feminine gender.  
However, in masc compounds, the feminine Ô-isÕ is dropped, so that we get the 
masc names ÔPel-opsÕ and ÔKukl-o:psÕ (Ôo:Õ represents omega), which were 
mentioned in the earlier posting.  They are declined differently: for instance, 
nom ÔopsisÕ, gen Ôopseo:sÕ; ÔPelopsÕ, ÔPeloposÕ; ÔKuklo:psÕ, ÔKuklo:posÕ.  In 
the case of Pelops, the heroÕs name is masculine on account of the sex of the 
referent.  Nevertheless, such nouns, whether masc or fem in gender were declined
according to their grammatical gender and not in the end according to the gender
of their referents.  In the case of the Cyclops, their name is probably 
masculine on account of an ancient sexist habit.  The habit of using the masc 
gender to denote a class of mixed sex apparently derives from 
Proto-Indo-European, in which generic nouns (like English ÔdogÕ or ÔfoxÕ) could 
be used to refer to either gender, but separate names were used to refer 
specifically to females (as in English ÔbitchÕ and ÔvixenÕ).  This is because 
the feminine gender in Indo-European languages evolved out of the neuter, so 
that at an early stage in their linguistic evolution, a feminine suffix could 
not be used to indicate the female gender of an animal (since there were no such
suffixes), but its gender had to be indicated by the use of special terms.  

The nomenclature system suffers from the obnoxious habit of excessively 
Latinizing Greek, and this practice reflects not merely spelling or 
transliteration conventions (like ÔcÕ for the letter kappa, ÔchÕ for the letter 
chi, etc.), but involves substituting the once more familiar Latin Ô-usÕ for the
Gk masc nom sg Ô-osÕ.  It is true, as someone on this List observed, that 
sometimes Gk masc nouns can be used correctly to refer to females.  There are 
other more complex cases: Ômathe:te:sÕ (Ôe:Õ indicates the letter eta), 
Ôdisciple, studentÕ, is of the masculine gender, taking the masculine article 
(ÔhoÕ), yet it is declined according to an otherwise feminine paradigm.  
Similarly, despite ending in Ô-osÕ, Ôhe: gnathosÕ Ôthe jaw boneÕ, is feminine, 
yet it is declined according to the usual masculine paradigm of words ending in 
Ô-osÕ.  Yet in the compound word Ôkompso-gnathosÕ, the terminal Ô-osÕ has been 
treated as a masc suffix, and is replaced by its Latin counterpart, Ô-usÕ.  By 
the rule of adjective agreement, observed in both Gk and Latin, the adjective 
should be of the same gender as the noun.   Using the mistaken Latin suffix and 
treating the whole compound word ÔCompsognathusÕ as Latin, the adjective would 
have the masc form ÔprimusÕ; but going back to the original Greek Kompsognathos,
the adjective should have been the feminine ÔprimaÕ (for Gk Ôpro:te:Õ).