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Thundering across the Alberta badlands there once galumphed a slavering flesh-eater, the nine-metre tall dinosaur, Albertosaurus, who tickled the scales at three tons, an early example of a Canadian with a weight problem. But, hey, it isn’t every province with a dinosaur named after it. Albertosaurus was only a teensy-weensy bit tinier than that humongous terror Tyrannosaurus rex.
Albertosaurus got dubbed in 1884, the same year its skull was first unearthed in the stark, bone-bed valley of the Red Deer River. The dino's digger-up was explorer Joseph Burr Tyrrell.
In Drumheller, Alberta, The Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology is—for this author—the place most worth visiting in the whole province of Alberta. Named after one of the earliest and best dinosaur-hunters ever to traipse the dry-ribbed gulches and arid arroyos of fossil-thick southern Alberta, the Tyrrell often garners first prize among world visitors and reptile experts as the best presented of all dinosaur collections in the entire world.
If you are planning a first visit to Alberta, put the Tyrrell Museum high on your list, right up there with the Rocky Mountains. The badlands beckon the leather-skinned poet of devastation in the true adventurer, the worldly wanderer drawn to the earth's empty quarters like T.E. Lawrence to the siren dunes of Arabia. British playwright Alan Bennett in his wonderful memory play “Forty Years On” had a character state that Lawrence was in fact attracted to Arabia by all the “unmade Bedouins.”
The Rockies appeal to the same people who like crystal sprinkles on their Christmas cards and tape little crosses to their dogs' collars and teach crippled chihuahuas to kneel down and fold their twisted little paws in Easter prayer while the wee doggies bark out the tune to “There is a Green Hill Far Away.” But, goodness now, I mustn't deprecate all bold Rocky Mountain stalwarts. Don't forget those other Rocky Mountain fans who flock like lemmings to go heliskiing and end up as human-flavoured slushies under twelve million tons of avalanche snow.
Origin of the word dinosaur
Like many words in science, dinosaur has two Greek roots. Deinos means ‘terrible’ or ‘frightening’ and saura means ‘lizard’ or ‘reptile.’ Most would agree that meeting an Albertosaurus for a swimming party in the Milk River 70 million years ago might have been a tad frightening. Yes, yes, I know the Milk River would not have been there, pace all the little Pleistocene nitpickers.
The precise moment of birth of a new word is, for most of our English vocabulary, lost in the forgetful mists of time. So it pleasant for word lovers to have the actual moment of origin of a word recorded, and with the term dinosaur we have it.
Sir Richard Owen (1804-1892) was a pioneering British comparative anatomist who coined the term dinosauria first, recognizing them as a suborder of large, extinct reptiles. Owen had noticed that a group of fossils had common characteristics, including:
- Column-like legs (instead of the sprawling legs that other reptiles have)
- Five extra caudal vertebrae fused to the pelvic girdle, probably to support and move a massive tail.
Owen proposed this new name in a scientific paper published in the “Proceedings of the British Association for the Advancement of Science” in 1842. In that article, Owen wrote, “The combination of such characteristics all manifested by creatures far surpassing in size the largest of existing reptiles, will, it is presumed, be deemed sufficient ground for establishing a distinct tribe or suborder of Saurian Reptiles, for which I would propose the name of Dinosauria.”
Sometimes we can travel back and the very beginning of a word is saved for us in the preservative amber of print. We ought not to rush to destroy the printed word and have everything written in light on computers. The problem with light is: sometimes the lights go out.
Saura, The Greek Word for Lizard in English Words
The Greek word for lizard sticks its tongue out in literature too. Compare one of the chief villains in Lord of The Rings, the Dark Lord Sauron. The author J.R.R. Tolkien was a classicist and named his villain after the Greek word for lizard. Now, in precise ancient Greek, sauron would mean ‘neuter lizard thing.’ Yech! You, Sauron, shall not be invited to my Stampede barbecue.
Saura also turns up in the name Tyrannosaurus rex. Translating the Greek and Latin elements in its name gives us ‘King Tyrant Reptile.’ Perhaps the most resonant ‘dino’ name is brontosaurus or ‘thunder lizard.’ Bronte, the Greek word for thunder, gives us an obscure but useful adjective. Some dogs are brontophobic. They are afraid of thunder and thunderstorms. Unfortunately the powerful sound of brontosaurus is no longer scientifically accurate. An earlier name for the same dinosaur has been found, and Brontie now goes, sadly, by the much milder, wimpier scientific name of epatosaurus. Sounds like a new burger at McPuke's.
For more Alberta dinosaur names from Canada, check out in your search engine entries for Centrosaurus brinkmani, Edmontosaurus and Lambeosaurus.
© 2012 William Gordon Casselman
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Reviews of my Book
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Jenni French of San Fancisco, California writes on her blog "My Corner of the Universe" for March 19, 2011:
Casselman, Bill. Where a Dobdob Meets a Dikdik: A World Lover's Guide to the Weirdest, Wackiest, and Wonkiest Lexical Gems. Avon, MA: Adams Media, 2010.
"I admit it: I'm a word nerd. I love words: weird words, long words, obscure words, funny words. This book is right up my alley. With chapters like "Nautical Words," "Creepy Words," and "Edible Words," I have enjoyed every page of this book.
And the author has quite a way with words, so I have found myself rereading many sentences in this book and slowing my progress through it.
My current favorite sentence is found in a discussion of dog hybrid breed names: "What a revolting concatenation of cutesiness and smarmy nomenclatorial treacle parading under the name of canine hybrid breed names" (19).
I'm sure I'll have another favorite sentence in a day or two.
This book is just that good and just that entertaining."
Author Bill Casselman replies: "Thanks, Jenni!"
Just a reminder that this book contains my ALL-NEW word esssays, none of which are available anywhere else in print or online.
A Great New Review of My Latest Book!
October 26, 2011
Welcome to the Enchanted Forest
By WB Johnston
This review is about Bill Casselman’s latest e-book about words: Where a Dobdob Meets a Dikdik: A Word Lover’s Guide to the Weirdest, Wackiest, and Wonkiest Lexical Gems (Kindle Edition)
“Wade Davis, lately of National Geographic, once described each living language as “an old-growth forest of the human spirit.” Once you decide to enter the kleptomaniacal woods of our mother tongue, what you need is more than a tour guide. This is no Disney-fied ‘keep-your-hands-inside-the-car-at all-times’, point A to point B, clear-cutting mining of language. You, here, are in the hands of Sir William of Cassel, a genuine shaman modestly posing as a simple lover of words.
In the best of the spiritual tradition, Bill is the shape-shifter who constantly leads you to all the places you need to find in your soul. Every page is a new country, an invitation to an excursion into the wonderland of rich connections with the myriad of sources of what so often we unthinkingly wield as a prosaic tool.
Pay absolutely no attention to anyone who tells you that this book is anything but pure gold. It’s simply not true, sadly, that all the world loves a lover. Particularly someone whose love is so boundless.
But Sir William is fearless. You don’t earn your keep as a medicine man if you have a thin skin. While I cannot for the life of me understand how anyone could walk away from this book unmoved by its wit, its wisdom and the beautiful transparency by which the author celebrates the glorious romp of our almost unlimited linguistic exuberance, I have to sadly conclude that once in a while, you do meet someone who can’t see the forest for the trees, eh?
Read this book. Leave it on the sofa instead of the $%#!*$% TV remote. Maybe someone you care about will pick it up, even just for a moment, and fall in love with their heritage?
Leave it on your desk at work and trust that someone will riffle through it when you are out at lunch. Shamans are magicians of the highest order. The work of their hands and hearts is game-changing. Or, hey, put it on your Kindle and just feel comforted that you can wander back out into the forest with Bill even in the middle of a boring lecture.
Casselman replies: Thank you so much, Dr. J., for the kudos.
Cindy Lapeña on her blog "Creativity Unlimited" of July 19 ,2011, writes:
Posted by mimrlith in 365 Things to Look Forward to.
Tags: 365 things to look forward to, books, reading
19. Starting a book
To a certified bibliophile like me, a.k.a. bookworm, one of the most exciting things to look forward to is to start reading a new book. In fact, sometimes the prospect of starting to read a new book is so exciting that I have to hurry to finish the book I am currently reading, just so I can start a new one.
If there’s one thing I can’t resist, it’s a book, especially if it promises to be a good one. Of course there are certain books I just won’t touch or be seen with, but at the risk of being hung by my thumbs by fans of such literature, I will not mention any genres in particular. . .
Seeing a book with a title that totally captivates me, like Where a Dobdob meets a Dikdik (yes, that is a book title!) has me so worked up, I just can’t wait to dive in. I imagine all sorts of deliciously fancifully outrageous words with a title like that. Is it obvious? I just love books on words. You won’t believe how many dictionaries I own. Or books on lexical oddities and other lexical explorations. Yes, I am a logophile of sorts. I love the new words I pick up from new books. I relish finding out the meanings of all manner of words and phrases and expressions. What could be more fun?"
(Replies author Bill Casselman: Please scroll to bottom of page or click here to link to a free seven-page preview of my new book, Where a Dobdob Meets a Dikdik.
Sample My Newest Book. Click Below.
Jan. 3, 2011
I wanted to write to thank you for your thoroughly enjoyable [new] book. By background, I am a technologist practicing the somewhat arcane crafts of Information Security.”
David Gamey, Canada
Thursday, February 3, 2011
Dear Mr. Casselman,
A search for the origins of an improbable-looking word, paraprosdokian, led me to the first piece of your prose I have had the pleasure of reading, "The Bogus Word Paraprosdokian & Lazy Con Artists of Academe." I have just placed an order for Where a Dobdob Meets a Dikdik, Canadian Words & Sayings, and As The Canoe Tips, and will add more of your titles as I finish these.
I have just retired from a 40-plus year career in book publishing, the last thirty years spent as director/editor of a number of university presses, attempting to sort the genuine writers from the "Lazy Con Artists of Academe." Sad to say, the latter have so over-bred the former that I could no longer see the rare gem in the avalanches of offal that daily swamped my office and desk. I visited your website and spent far too long there; it was a pleasure to meet a real writer through his work.
. . . I revisited the paraprosdokian page, and have finally quit laughing again at “Casselman's Conclusion.” You were not unkind to the "profligate prof-lets." During my years as an acquisitions editor, in rejection letters I often quoted Prof. Moses Hadas, classicist at Columbia University, who wrote a young scholar in response to having been sent the prof-let's first book, "Thank you for sending me your book. I will waste no time reading it."
I know I will enjoy your books. Keep up the good work.
University of New Mexico Press, among others
order online from chapters.indigo.ca
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