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Re: Plateosaurus: the Etymology and Meaning of a Name

Many thanks, Ben, for this most thorough and meticulous research, and
for the very clear presentation! I'll fit this into the wikipedia
articles ASAP!
Dr. Heinrich Mallison
Abteilung Forschung
Museum für Naturkunde - Leibniz-Institut
für Evolutions- und Biodiversitätsforschung
an der Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin
Invalidenstrasse 43
10115 Berlin
Office phone: +49 (0)30 2093 8764
Email: heinrich.mallison@gmail.com
Fere libenter homines id quod volunt credunt.
Gaius Julius Caesar

On Thu, Feb 2, 2012 at 1:34 AM, Ben Creisler <bcreisler@gmail.com> wrote:
> From: Ben Creisler
> bcreisler@gmail.com
> My apologies to the DML for the length of this posting--I don't have a
> blog of my own. Confusion over the etymology and the meaning of the
> name Plateosaurus has been fairly common. In particular, the English
> language and the German language Wikipedia articles currently give an
> incorrect meaning for Plateosaurus that has spread around the web. I
> hope this discussion helps clear up the issue.
> Etymology and Meaning of the Name Plateosaurus
> Back in the 1990s, I compiled a list of dinosaur names with
> etymologies that I had researched from the original sources wherever
> possible. The late vertebrate paleontologist Donald Baird was a great
> help in this project, and offered critical comments and photocopies of
> rare works. I wrote a number of articles on the topic for the Dinosaur
> Report newsletter for the Dinosaur Society. One article in 1995 was
> about the German paleontologist Hermann von Meyer, entitled “Pondering
> the Pachypoda.” In the article, I gave the etymology “broad lizard”
> for Plateosaurus, with the spelling explained by the genitive-case
> form plateos of Greek platys “broad.” I later posted this etymology on
> Jeff Poling’s website Dinosauria.com. That website is sadly gone, but
> my old lists of names are still posted on some mirror sites:
> http://web.me.com/dinoruss/dml/names/dinop.htm
> Currently, the English language Wikipedia article for Plateosaurus
> states the following:
> Plateosaurus (meaning "broad way lizard", often mistranslated as "flat
> lizard" or "broad lizard")
> http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plateosaurus
> As explained in the Etymology section of the Wikipedia article, this
> suggested derivation is from Greek plateia, meaning “broad road” or
> “broad way.” However, the meaning “broad way lizard” and a derivation
> from Greek plateia are almost certainly incorrect as explained below.
> The very comprehensive German Wikipedia article for Plateosaurus
> likewise gives the meaning of the name as “Breitweg-Echse.”
> http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plateosaurus
> Both of these articles cite Markus Moser’s 2003 monograph on
> Plateosaurus as the source for the etymology:
> Moser, M. (2003). Plateosaurus engelhardti Meyer, 1837 (Dinosauria,
> Sauropodomorpha) aus dem Feuerletten (Mittelkeuper; Obertrias) von
> Bayern. Zitteliana Reihe B, Abhandlungen der Bayerischen
> Staatssammlung fuer Palaeontologie und Geologie 24: 1–186
> Moser's major monograph has a large English summary. Markus has now
> made the pdf available at the University of Munich link, which also
> offers other pdfs from Zitteliana:
> http://epub.ub.uni-muenchen.de/12711/1/zitteliana_2003_b24.pdf
> (Earlier issues of Zitteliana (through 2002) are available on the
> Biodiversity Heritage Library site:
> http://www.biodiversitylibrary.org/item/89801)
> ====
> I think it is worthwhile to straighten out the etymology and the
> meaning of the name for such an important dinosaur as Plateosaurus.
> I first want to thank Heinrich Mallison for sending me a pdf of Moser
> 2003 and for kindly providing an accurate and detailed English
> translation of the German text discussing the etymology.
> I especially want to thank Markus Moser for many helpful comments and
> for pointing out a number of important issues. As explained later, he
> has changed his mind since 2003 about the etymology of Plateosaurus
> and no longer thinks that the name means “broad way
> lizard”/”Breitweg-Echse.”
> ====
> Here is my suggested etymology for Plateosaurus in English, based
> largely on personal research:
> Plateosaurus: "broad lizard" [= "broad-built lizard"] for its large
> size and massive build
> (from Greek adjective platys (genitive plateos (stem plate-)) "broad,
> wide, flat; large, bulky" [or from Greek noun platos (genitive plateos
> (stem plate-)) "breadth, width, bulk"] + Greek sauros "lizard")
> This approach provides a simple meaning "broad lizard" and an
> interpreted meaning "broad-built lizard" that better expresses von
> Meyer's idea behind the name Plateosaurus.
> A meaning "flat lizard," "oar lizard," or "broad way lizard" for the
> name Plateosaurus has no basis in von Meyer's original material or
> descriptions, and should be avoided.
> ===
> The exact etymology for Plateosaurus remains a puzzle since the stem
> plate- could come from the genitive case plateos of either the Greek
> adjective platys "broad" or the Greek noun platos "breadth," which is
> derived from platys.
> See Perseus Greek grammar link:
> http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/morph?l=plate%2Fos&la=greek
> Based on Hermann von Meyer's other names for fossil animals, it may be
> more likely that he composed the name from the Greek NOUN platos
> rather than the Greek ADJECTIVE platys, although the intepreted
> meaning "broad-built lizard" would be appropriate either way. I may do
> a later posting about von Meyer’s names.
> For the range of meanings commonly found for Greek platys in classical
> usage see:
> http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/%CF%80%CE%BB%CE%B1%CF%84%CF%8D%CF%82
> Other words in Greek related to platys and platos include plate
> “oar-blade” or “flat surface,” plateos “broadly,” plateion “tablet,”
> plateia “broad road,” platykephalos “flat-headed,” platyno “broaden,
> widen,” and platynotos “broad-backed.” The name (or nickname to be
> precise) of the famous Greek philosopher Plato translates as
> “broad-shoulders” and comes from platys.
> For more grammar issues about platys, platos, and Plateosaurus, see
> the footnote at the end.
> =====
> Early History of the Name Plateosaurus
> A short history may help explain von Meyer's intended meaning for the
> name Plateosaurus. The features repeatedly stressed by von Meyer and
> clearly understood in early sources were the animal’s giant size and
> massive build, which can be expressed in the term “broad” (better
> understood here as “broad-built”).
> 1830: German paleontologist Hermann von Meyer (1801-1869) presents a
> system for classifying fossil reptiles based on their toes and limb
> bones. He creates a special division for forms that have massive limbs
> like those of heavy land mammals and includes Megalosaurus and
> Iguanodon. Von Meyer’s classification is the first recognition of
> dinosaurs as a distinct group. (Isis 1830)
> http://www.biodiversitylibrary.org/item/87982#page/277/mode/1up
> 1837: Von Meyer identifies fossil bones from a site in Germany near
> Nuremberg as a those of a giant reptile related to Megalosaurus and
> Iguanodon from England. He names the animal Plateosaurus, but provides
> no etymology and few descriptive details. The type material consists
> mainly of parts of limb bones and vertebrae. [Von Meyer (1839) later
> recognizes a sacrum with three fused vertebrae in the material.] There
> are no teeth or any parts of the pubic apron or shoulder-blades or
> skull in the type material that could be characterized as “flat.”
> Meyer, H. von (1837). Mitteilung an Prof. Bronn [Plateosaurus
> engelhardti]. Neues Jahrbuch für Mineralogie, Geognosie, Geologie und
> Petrefakten-Kunde : 316.
> http://www.biodiversitylibrary.org/page/12136925#page/336/mode/1up
> Meyer, H. von (1839). Neues Jahrbuch für Mineralogie, Geognosie,
> Geologie und Petrefakten-Kunde : 76-79.
> http://www.biodiversitylibrary.org/item/110811#page/97/mode/1up
> Thomas Huxley's translation and comments:
> http://books.google.com/books?id=AzIcAAAAMAAJ&pg=PA495&dq=plateosaurus+von+meyer+1855&hl=en&sa=X&ei=u0YHT9OVIMmMiAL8s_20CQ&sqi=2&ved=0CEsQ6AEwBA#v=onepage&q=plateosaurus%20von%20meyer%201855&f=false
> [1842: Richard Owen publishes a paper erecting the Dinosauria
> ("fearfully great lizards") for Megalosaurus, Iguanodon, and
> Hylaeosaurus. ]
> 1844:  Louis Agassiz publishes the Reptilia portion of his Nomenclator
> Zoologicus, which includes names of fossil forms provided in part by
> Hermann von Meyer. Evidently with no information from von Meyer
> himself, Agassiz gives the etymology for Plateosaurus as Greek plate
> “oar” (Latin pala) + sauros “lizard.”
> http://www.biodiversitylibrary.org/page/33663422
> 1845:  Von Meyer gives the formal name Pachypodes (later as Pachypoda)
> "thick feet" or “stout feet” [= “pachyderm feet”]  to his “second
> division” of fossil reptiles, equivalent to Owen’s Dinosauria.
> Meyer, H. von (1845). System der fossilen Saurier. Neues Jahrbuch für
> Mineralogie, Geognosie, Geologie und Petrefakten-Kunde 1845: 278–285
> http://www.biodiversitylibrary.org/item/110636#page/300/mode/1up
> 1846: German geologist Hans Bruno Geinitz (1814-1900) publishes
> Grundriss der Versteinerungskunde [Outline for the Study of Fossils].
> On page 89, Geintiz gives the etymology “Plateosaurus H. v. Mey.
> (platys, breit).” In German, “breit” means “broad.” (However, Geinitz
> classifies Plateosaurus as a crocodile and Megalosaurus as a lizard.)
> http://reader.digitale-sammlungen.de/de/fs1/object/display/bsb10225993_00107.html
> 1846: Agassiz publishes the final comprehensive index for his
> Nomenclator Zoologicus and “corrects” the spelling of Plateosaurus to
> “Platysaurus,” clearly changing his mind about his original proposed
> derivation from Greek plate “oar.” The name Platysaurus is derived
> from Greek platys. In other etymologies in the Nomenclator Zoologicus,
> Agassiz typically gave Latin latus “broad” as the meaning of Greek
> platys.
> http://www.biodiversitylibrary.org/page/33664608#page/1460/mode/1up
> [It seems unlikely that Agassiz and Geinitz knew about each others’
> etymologies for Plateosaurus from platys. It also seems extremely
> doubtful that von Meyer contacted either man about the etymology.]
> 1855:  Von Meyer publishes a detailed description of Plateosaurus with
> illustrations, but no etymology. He repeatedly refers to its gigantic
> size [Riesensaurus] and massive limbs [schwerfüssig], similar to large
> modern land mammals. No important features are described that fit the
> description “flat” or shaped like an “oar.”
> Meyer, H. von (1855). Zur Fauna der Vorwelt. Zweite Abtheilung. Die
> Saurier des Muschelkalks, mit Rücksicht auf die Saurier aus dem bunten
> Sandstein und Keuper. H. Keller, Frankfurt am Main. pp. i-vlii; 1-167.
> (Plateosaurus: 152-155)
> [no link available that I could find]
> 1874:  French Larousse dictionary gives the etymology: PLATÉOSAURE s.
> m. (pla-té-o-so-re du gr. platus, large; sauros, lézard). Erpét. Genre
> de reptiles fossiles peu connu.[Poorly known genus of fossil reptile.]
> (page 1149)
> http://gallica.bnf.fr/Search?ArianeWireIndex=index&p=1&lang=EN&q=plateosaure
> The French word "large" translates as "broad, wide" in English so the
> French name “platéosaure” would mean “broad lizard,” another clue as
> to how the name was usually understood during the 19th century. (Many
> modern French sources now give the meaning of Plateosaurus as "lézard
> plat" [flat lizard] rather than "lézard large.")
> =====
> A meaning "oar lizard" for Plateosaurus originated with Agassiz,
> although he later rejected that etymology. Other early sources
> (Geinitz) derived the name Plateosaurus from Greek platys with a
> meaning "broad," clearly deciding that von Meyer's source was the
> genitive stem plate- of platys and not the Greek noun plate "oar."
> The idea that Plateosaurus means "flat lizard" may have come from
> variations in the main meaning given for Greek platys in Greek
> dictionaries and other sources. Some sources list the primary meaning
> of platys as “broad, wide” while others offer “flat, even” first,
> followed by “broad, wide.” In addition, the Greek noun plate could
> mean an “oar” but also anything with a flat surface. See:
> http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.04.0057%3Aentry%3Dpla%2Fth
> Later authors tried to explain a meaning “flat lizard,” often by
> citing features in more complete fossil material that was later
> attributed to Plateosaurus and NOT found in von Meyer’s original
> material. Suggested features that supposedly inspired the meaning
> “flat lizard” have included flat teeth, the flat shape of the frontal
> bones on the skull, and the distinctive flat "pubic apron"--all
> features absent in the fossil material available to von Meyer.
> Markus Moser (2003) proposed the meaning "broad way lizard"
> ["Breitweg-Echse"] to explain the spelling of Plateosaurus,based on
> Greek plateia "broad road" or "broad way" taken as a reference to the
> animal's broad-gauge [breitspurig] stance. However, the spelling
> Plateosaurus can be better explained by a stem plate- from the
> genitive case plateos from either the Greek adjective platys "broad"
> or the closely related noun platos "breadth, bulk."
> Markus no longer thinks that the name Plateosaurus came from Greek
> plateia with a meaning "broad way lizard" or "Breitweg Echse," and
> favors a meaning "Breitechse" [broad lizard] with a derivation from
> Greek platys or platos (personal communication).
> Genitive Case Stem in Forming Names
> The common practice in ancient Greek and Latin, adopted for Neo-Latin
> scientific names, is to form compound words or names using a stem form
> of a word and, when needed, a connecting vowel (o or i). For nouns and
> adjectives from Greek and Latin, the stem can be different from the
> dictionary headword. The stem is commonly found be removing the
> grammatical ending from the genitive (or possessive) case form of a
> noun or an adjective. (This use of the genitive case in forming
> compound words has nothing to do with a possessive meaning!)
> Thus the Greek noun keras “horn” (the dictionary head entry) has a
> genitive case keratos. Remove the grammatical ending  –os to get the
> stem kerat-. In Latinized spelling as cerat- , this form of keras
> “horn” shows up in Ceratosaurus, Ceratopsia, Triceratops, etc.
> Similarly, the Greek masculine adjective megas “great” has a genitive
> megalos, which has a stem megal- found in the names such as
> Megalosaurus, Megalodon and Megalneusaurus. (But note Megatherium.)
> Adjectives in Greek and Latin had three genders: masculine, feminine,
> neuter. The stem of the combining form of the adjective is taken from
> the genitive of the masculine singular form.
> This “use the stem of the genitive” rule to find combining forms of
> words had exceptions in Greek and Latin, a point that may bear on the
> derivation and spelling of Plateosaurus. In particular, Greek had a
> number of masculine adjectives the end in –ys with a genitive form
> ending in –eos:  barys “heavy,” brakhys “short,” eurys “wide,” pakhys
> “thick,” platys “broad,” etc. The standard Latinized combining forms,
> however, are bary-, brachy-, eury-, pachy-, platy-, etc., found in
> dinosaur names such as Baryonyx, Brachylophosaurus,
> Pachycephalosaurus, etc.
> For a discussion of this special group of adjectives in Greek, see
> Clements 1902:
> http://books.google.com/books?id=RyAZAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA35&dq=clements+unlike+nouns+of+this+class+to+not+take+the+connective&hl=en&sa=X&ei=b98VT9qPHOSpiAL8vczoDQ&ved=0CDYQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q&f=false
> In both classical and Neo-Latin usage, it would be unusual to use a
> stem from the genitive case such as plate- from plateos instead of
> platy- in forming a zoological name such as Plateosaurus-- if the
> adjective platys is the source.
> Note that von Meyer used the CORRECT combining form of such Greek
> adjectives in his other generic names such as Pachyodon “thick tooth”
> (1838), Eurysternum “wide sternum” (1839), Trachyaspis “rough shield”
> (1843), Pachypodes (1845) “stout feet,” Brachymys “short mouse”
> (1847), etc.
> He also would have been aware of many earlier generic names with
> platy- by other authors such as Platydactylus Goldfuss 1820 (“flat
> toes”), Platynotus Wagler, 1830 (“broad back”), Platysternon Gray,
> 1831 (“broad sternum”), and Platypeltis Fitzinger, 1835 (“broad
> shield”) to use only examples of reptiles.
> Von Meyer used a spelling “-eosaurus” in a number of his other names,
> including Rhacheosaurus (1835) and Ardeosaurus (1860). Both of these
> names are formed from a Greek NOUN that has a genitive case in –eos:
> Rhacheosaurus “spine lizard” (from Greek noun rhakhis (genitive
> rhakheos (stem rhakhe-)) “spine, backbone” + Greek sauros "lizard")
> for the unusual shape of its vertebrae
> Ardeosaurus “arrowhead lizard” (from Greek noun ardis (genitive ardeos
> (stem arde-) ) “arrowhead” + Greek sauros "lizard") for the pointed
> shape of its skull
> Based on these examples, it seems more probable that von Meyer formed
> the name Plateosaurus from the Greek NOUN platos “breadth, width,
> bulk” rather than from the ADJECTIVE platys “broad; large, bulky.” If
> he had derived the name from platys, he likely would have used the
> spelling “Platysaurus” in the same way that Agassiz later “corrected”
> the name Plateosaurus. Because von Meyer did not provide an etymology,
> his EXACT source (platys or platos) for Plateosaurus remains open to
> debate.
> Whether the name Plateosaurus has a literal etymology “broad lizard”
> from platys or “breadth lizard” or “bulk lizard” from platos, an
> interpreted meaning such as “broad-built lizard” (perhaps as
> “Breitgebautechse” in German) would more fully convey von Meyer’s
> intended meaning.
> However, the adjective “broad” in English and adjective “breit” in
> German can be used to indicate a person or an animal with a large and
> massive build. On this basis, a simple meaning “broad lizard” in
> English and “Breitechse” (or “ breite Echse”) in German would be a
> suitable translation of the name Plateosaurus.
> Other languages would be similar:
> French: "lézard large" (or "reptile large")
> Spanish: "lagarto largo" (or "reptil largo")
> Portuguese: “lagarto largo” (or “réptil largo”)
> Italian: "lucertola larga" (or "rettile largo")
> Dutch: "breed reptiel"
> Polish: "szeroki jaszczur"
> Russian: "shirokii yashcher"
> The standard Chinese name for Plateosaurus is “banlong” from Chinese
> ban “board, plank, plate” and Chinese long “dragon” so a change to
> another Chinese name would be confusing.
> ====