Clearing the Good Name of Dinosaurs

Using the Term ‘Dinosaur’ Properly

If you scan through Twitter, or probably any social media, today you will find people calling other people a ‘#dinosaur’. Dinosaur has got to be one of the most misleading and misused words in the English language today. There’s been a huge snowball effect from one misinterpretation to the next throughout history. There are a lot of (mis)uses for the term dinosaur going around today, and I’d like to defend the good name of dinosaurs since the bigger, badder versions aren’t around today to prove it themselves.

The Problem’s Historical Origin

The term dinosaur has been around a relatively long, long time. It was coined back in 1842 by Richard Owen. And this is where the history of the word dinosaur starts to go sideways. Everyone knows ‘dinosaur’ means “terrible lizard” right? Except that it doesn’t. Dinosaur actually means “fearfully great lizard.” This is arguably where the confusion with the term dinosaur starts. Dinosaurs are not lizards, and lizards are not dinosaurs. You can’t blame Mr. Owen too much, we’ve got a lot more dinosaur fossils to study today than he ever had.

Incorrect Modern Usage

Nowadays a big (mis)use for the term dinosaurs is to describe someone or something that is unable to adapt. Payphones, for example, cannot compete in today’s world of communications. This couldn’t be a more wrong characterization of dinosaurs. Dinosaurs were a hugely successful group of animals that have existed for the past 240 million years. They were highly adaptive to their environment, constantly evolving, changing in size and shape, and becoming more and more successful at eating, hunting, running, or whatever it is their particular species did.
The Tyrannosaurus Rex is a perfect example. It’s called the apex land predator for a reason. It was the culmination of successful traits from every land-dwelling carnivore before it, right up until the final days before the asteroid hit. The Tyrannosaur would have likely continued evolving into something else even scarier, and humans might not be around today. There were no hospitals or emergency services in the time of the dinosaurs. Any dinosaur that couldn’t keep up died, and dead dinosaurs don’t lay eggs to continue their species.

Why We Misuse The Word Dinosaur

This line of thinking probably comes from the time when we thought dinosaurs went extinct because of natural selection. We used to think, as Ian Malcom mentioned in Jurassic Park, that nature selected dinosaurs for extinction. We used to think dinosaurs were slow, lumbering animals. Nowadays, we know that dinosaurs weren’t the slow-month sloths we thought they were, and that they did not die out from natural causes at all. Unless you call a 6 mile long asteroid from outer space ‘natural’.

The Real Meaning Of The Term Dinosaur

Dinosaurs have existed for 240 million years or more now. The non-avian dinosaurs existed for 175 million years, and birds have continued the dinosaur legacy for more than the past 65 million. The entirety of human existence hasn’t even matched a drop in that bucket. If you’re defining success by human standards, even one million years will surpass those expectations.

There are over 700 known species of dinosaurs not including birds. There are countless more dinosaurs species waiting to be discovered, along with countless more bird species yet to evolve. There are just a handful of different human species known, and even some of those are in dispute. Since we’re a lot more recent than dinosaurs, the chances of discovering another new human species is unlikely.

Correcting Bad Behavior

Ironically, anyone calling someone else a dinosaur because they have an outdated view, are themselves a dinosaur. They are using an old, out-dated term themselves, and unwilling to adapt to the newer, more accurate understanding of dinosaurs. Calling someone a dinosaur because they are old is still valid, as some dinosaurs are believed to have lived 80 to 100 years. Additionally calling something a dinosaur because it is huge also holds up, as the average dinosaur was the size of a car. Some characterizations still hold up, but we have to let the bad ones go.

Don’t be a dinosaur yourself. Call someone a #dinosaur to give them a compliment. Goodness knows we could use more of that going around right now.

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