Author Topic: Dinosaur! *Dinosaurus?  (Read 2884 times)

Offline Daniel

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Dinosaur! *Dinosaurus?
« on: December 18, 2013, 04:58:43 PM »
Here's an apparently simple morphological question: why doesn't 'dinosaur' end with -us?

Compare:
dinosaur
brachiosaurus, stegasaurus, apatosaurus, tyrannosaurus [rex]

Etymonline isn't too helpful in this case:
http://etymonline.com/index.php?term=dinosaur

I can assume that "dinosaur" is just a change (it's the exception), with a loss of that final syllable.

But I also wonder: -r was a common nominative masculine singular ending in Latin, so that could explain it too. Then why the -us vs Ø?

When I started thinking about the meaning, something very interesting occurred to me:
-us seems to refer to specific species of dinosaur.
Ø is used more with generic, maybe casual usage.

So "tyrannosaurus" is a specific species (because it's the scientific name?), while a Tyrannosaur is any large flesh-eating lizard creature-- the class of all dinosaurs that resemble T-Rex's.

Likewise, a "dinosaurus" feels like a very specific kind of creature (whatever kind that might be).

This seems to hold for new coinings as well:
"Herbasaur" is a perfectly valid (hypothetical) name for a dinosaur that only eats plants.
"Herbasaurus" is a perfectly valid (hypothetical) name for a certain species of dinosaur that happens to eat only plants.


Does anyone else share my intuition on this one? Am I imagining things?
And do you have any general insight into the distribution of that -us?
« Last Edit: December 18, 2013, 05:09:33 PM by djr33 »
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Offline freknu

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Re: Dinosaur! *Dinosaurus?
« Reply #1 on: December 19, 2013, 01:13:43 AM »
I kind of wondered about that, and not only dinosaurs, but planet names, months, maybe other stuff as well.

En. mercury, Sv. merkurius, Lat. mercurius
En. saturn, Sv. saturnus, Lat. saturnus
En. neptune, Sv. neptunus, Lat. neptunus
En. march, Lat. martius

And so on.

Offline Corybobory

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Re: Dinosaur! *Dinosaurus?
« Reply #2 on: December 19, 2013, 09:22:25 AM »
Does it have to do with the -us being on single species and as dinosaur is the 'parent' grouping, it doesn't perhaps?

I have heard them referred to as tyrannosaurs, stegosaurs, etc though... hmm I'm not sure I understand why.
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Offline Daniel

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Re: Dinosaur! *Dinosaurus?
« Reply #3 on: December 19, 2013, 02:50:37 PM »
freknu, I don't know why exactly-- it might be via French dropping endings to some degree then Anglicization. But lots of English words do that, you're right. I'm wondering if in this case there's some systematic explanation because of -saur vs. -saurus. (Technically some of the names you cited also might preserve the -us, but that's because they're name being essentially cited in Latin. Maybe that's also relevant for the dinosaur species names though.)


Cory, that's roughly the sense I get.
Those examples could just be mistakes, but at least I get some sense they're more general groups, yes.
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Offline Corybobory

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Re: Dinosaur! *Dinosaurus?
« Reply #4 on: December 20, 2013, 04:53:49 AM »
Yeah, I get the feeling that it's different if I said,

"a tyrannosaurus..." (meaning a specific one in this species)
"a tyrannosaur..." (meaning one of any type of this species)
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Offline Daniel

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Re: Dinosaur! *Dinosaurus?
« Reply #5 on: December 20, 2013, 05:03:34 AM »
Could you also say this?
"a tyrannosaur..." (casually meaning some particular T-Rex)

Is it about register -- casual vs. precise? Or is it about species vs. broader type?
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Offline Corybobory

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Re: Dinosaur! *Dinosaurus?
« Reply #6 on: December 20, 2013, 09:52:32 AM »
My instinct says it's species vs broader type - what do you think?
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Offline Daniel

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Re: Dinosaur! *Dinosaurus?
« Reply #7 on: December 20, 2013, 02:22:51 PM »
I think so, but this is sort of a fuzzy case.
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