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