Saturday, February 7, 2009

Terrible lizard

Sir Richard Owen searched around for a word to describe the creature whose fossils he had found and chose to make a portmanteau of the Greek words deinos (fearful) and sauros (lizard). He probably didn't realize that the word would go on to become a cover-all for an entire set of creatures that came and went over a span of 65 million years. Today, kids under 10 will reel off the names of at least 20 individual species of that era without once thinking of them as dinosaurs - but that's the only way adults seem to be capable of describing them.

It is heartening to see that the Children's Museum in Chennai does not pander to adults, but gives the Tyrannosaurus its proper name on their website. This fibreglass model was installed, along with that of a Stegosaurus, about 25 years ago and has been quite popular with the visitors; in fact, there is a museum at Palayamkottai which has replicated it for its display. Even allowing for a liberal interpretation of what the Tyrannosaurus might have looked like, the eyes make it out to be more fearful than fear-inducing; the colours have been changed over the last generation. I seem to remember both animals being ruddy-brown when they made their first appearance, rather than the green-and-cream scheme they've been bestowed with now.

Interestingly, Greek mythology also describes Deino as a gray witch, who shared one tooth and one eye with her two sisters. This dino does not have to do things like that, at any rate!


Hilda said...

Dinosaurs are so fascinating! But unlike the kids, I can never remember their names :)

Shantaram said...

@ Hilda: :) I have a stock of four or five and I try to pronounce them differently each time!