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Re: Saurus plurals



At 03:57 PM 7/19/99 -0700, you wrote:
>Does anyone know the correct way to pluralize the dinosaur names that
>end with "saurus"?

Okay, the plural of "-saurus" would be "-sauri".

HOWEVER:

Dinosaur taxonomic names, when used in their formal (Latin) form should
*NEVER* be pluralized.  They refer to the taxon, and not to an individual of
that taxon.

For example, there is only one _Tyrannosaurus_, only one _Triceratops_, only
one _Stegosaurus_.  There were millions of individuals of these genera, yes.
But the names refer to the taxon as a whole, never to individuals of that taxon.

This is nothing peculiar to paleontology: it is equally incorrect to make
plurals of _Homo_ or _Rattus_ or _Drosophila_: yes, there are about 6
billion humans, billions more of rats, and billions upon billions of fruit
flies, but only one _Homo_, one _Rattus_, one _Drosophila_, so we don't use
homines or ratti or drosophilae.

In the case of the modern forms, we have formal taxonomic names and
vernacular forms of these names as well: humans for _Homo_, rats for
_Rattus_, fruit flies for _Drosophila_ (plus many more additional names in
every language in the world).  For extinct forms, though, we don't have
vernacular names per se.  People do use "tyrannosaurs" as a vernacular (I
know I do), but are you referring just to _T. rex_, to the taxon
_Tyrannosaurus_ as a whole, or to all of Tyrannosauridae?

Every so often people suggest coming up with a common name for each dinosaur
("king tyrant lizard" for _T. rex_, for example), but this goes against the
contribution of Linnaeus (one universal name for each species regardless of
the speaker's native language).

Yes, it does make things difficult when writing stuff for kids (I know, I've
been there myself), but it is a trade off with which we are willing to live.

Hope this helps.

                        Thomas R. Holtz, Jr.
                        Vertebrate Paleontologist
Deptartment of Geology                  Director, Earth, Life & Time Program
University of Maryland                  College Park Scholars
College Park, MD  20742       
Webpage: http://www.geol.umd.edu        Phone:301-405-4084
Email:tholtz@geol.umd.edu               Fax:  301-314-9661