Neither George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, nor James Monroe—the first five presidents of the United States—ever had his photograph taken or ever heard of a dinosaur. That’s because photography wasn’t made practical till after 1839, and only in around 1841 did Richard Owen coin the term dinosaurus, which Spanish has turned into dinosaurio and English into dinosaur. Although Owen’s dinosaurus has a Latin ending, he created the compound from the Greek elements deinos ‘monstrous’ and sauros ‘lizard.’ We see -saur- in other dinosaur-related words like saurópodo/sauropod, brontosaurio/brontosaur(us), and apatosauro/apatosaur(us).

One other connection is that ancient Greek deinos was related to Latin dīrus, which meant ‘fearful, awful.’ English has borrowed the Latin adjective as dire. Just as a dinosaur is an extinct ‘fearsome lizard,’ a dire wolf is an extinct ‘fearsome wolf.’

© 2014 Steven Schwartzman

4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. jessjennison
    Jun 09, 2014 @ 12:24:26

    So many interesting tidbits in one post!


    • Steve Schwartzman
      Jun 09, 2014 @ 12:28:43

      Perhaps we should follow the practice of computer science and roll 8 tidbits up into 1 tidbyte so there’d be fewer items scattered about.


      • shoreacres
        Jun 11, 2014 @ 22:10:26

        Tidbytes? That’s laugh-out-loud funny. Keep that up, and it won’t be long before we get to gigglebytes.

        I think I’m going to have to have a little conversation with the nice ladies at the museum in West Columbia. The photo that’s shown there as being Brit Bailey, and that I used in my post, suddenly is in doubt. Bailey died in the cholera epidemic of 1832-1833. Whoops. I’m going to have to add a fact checker to my staff.

        Have you ever come across the story of the poor brontosaurus, the dinosaur that never was? It’s pretty interesting.


        • Steve Schwartzman
          Jun 11, 2014 @ 23:32:33

          Gigglebytes is an appropriate follow-up to tidbytes. In the real world, after gigabytes we get terabytes, from the Greek teras that meant ‘monster,’ so we’re back to dinosaurs, sort of. And on that subject, I did know the story of the brontosaurus/apatosaurus, thanks to some educational television shows I’ve seen over the past few years.

          I can understand your second thoughts about any purported photograph of a person who died in 1832 or 1833. The daguerreotype, announced to the world in 1839, was the first type of photography to go mainstream. You can read more about it at:



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©2011–2018 Steven Schwartzman

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