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A combining form which isn’t, but maybe should be?

I doubt this matter will hold much interest for OED, its principle focus being on words which are, or were, in common or standard and usage. But for those interested in neologisms, word coinage or memes that might be useful in the future, perhaps this offers some food for thought.

Definition, ‘-saur’, combining suffix: a form meant for use with the common name of any animal that is seriously endangered and threatened with extinction.

Usage: [common or modified name of an endangered animal] + [appropriate linking vowel when needed] + [‘saur’]. The common name may be modified to facilitate pronunciation, provided the name remains clear enough to convey the species to which the combined form refers (eg. ‘rhinosaur’.)

Examples: rhinosaur, elephantasaur, condorosaur, turtlasaur, snow leopardasaur, insectosaurs, etc.

Brief discussion: Though the root of the suffix ‘saur’ is derived from the Greek ‘soros’, “lizard” (not to be confused with words ending with ‘saurus’), the common connotation vectors to the idea that the animal being referred to is in danger of extinction rather than to any specific ancestral or taxonomic relationship to dinosaurs. ‘(Dino)saur’ simply predisposes the listener to associate the ending with subject of extinction.

When someone inadvertently used the term ‘rhinosaur’ instead of ‘rhinoceros’, two thoughts came to my mind immediately. First, I wondered if it was some kind of taxonomic reference to an extinct ancestor of the rhinoceros that was unfamiliar to me? Second, my thoughts were cued on the extinction, or endangered status of the animal.

Of course my first thought was wrong. There is no such ancestor of the rhinocerous that has ‘saur’ in its name (not in the 'Perissodactyla' order, nor the 'Rhinocerotidae' family.) Second, the connotation of being an extinction-related term piggy-backs itself onto the combined form whether it is explicitly related to the context not. One can say something as simple as “I’m going to the zoo to see the rhinosaurs,” and the inference is carried that the animal is somehow related to the idea of extinction.

I did consider whether the combining suffix might use more specific terms that would relate its status to actual, ancestral designators. Birds, for example might naturally use the suffix ‘saur’ since they evolved from dinosaurs. But tigers wouldn’t work since their order and family, used as combing forms (Carnivores, Felidae) do not have parts which generically convey the idea of extinction in common speech.

I think the availability of the combined form might be very useful in everyday speech to subtext the consciousness of the endangered status of an animal, as well as in discourse where environmental concerns are more specifically being addressed.

I do not believe establishing the usage in everyday conversation would present much difficulty as long as the common name, in whole or modified form, made clear what we are talking about. Written forms of usage present some special problems, however. Standardizing a preferred spelling of a particular animal species from several possibilities may be rather arbitrary in some cases (eg. ‘turtleasaur’, ‘turtlesaur’, ‘turtlosaur’, ‘turtlasaur’, etc.)

It might be interesting to see what some readers in this forum might come up with for the ‘saur’ combining form and their own interests in some particular endangered species.

-- rs, April, 2019

Comments

  • Speaking personally for myself only...

    Examples: rhinosaur, elephantasaur, condorosaur, turtlasaur, snow leopardasaur, insectosaurs, etc.

    If I saw or heard any of these words, I would understand them to refer to prehistoric beasts that I hadn't heard of before.

    Yes, new suffixes and quasi-suffixes can arise from portmanteau words aka blends. But I think there are two necessary conditions

    • that at least one must have become widely familiar in use
    • that each new word must be obviously related in meaning to the same source-word.

    What stops me from embracing your suggestion is:

    • I'm not aware of any -saur word of the type you suggest.
    • Although the whole word dinosaur has connotations of 'doomed to extinction', neither of its constituent parts has that connotation.
    • The ending is an unstressed syllable. If I wanted to invent a blend to be understood as 'party on the edge of extinction', it would be one that used the stressed element — dinoparty.
      (It's the stress, not the position. Blends can be formed with a stressed ending e.g. glitterati, corbynista.)

    • In any case, how would an elephanotsaur be a different beast from an elephant?

  • redsliderredslider
    edited April 12

    David, you’ve raised some good points. I’ll try to respond in the order you’ve presented them.

    two necessary conditions:

    • that at least one must have become widely familiar in use;
    • that each new word must be obviously related in meaning to the same source-word

    For your first condition, I think the ‘saur’ ending is in widely familiar use, even though that usage relates it to only one word, ‘dinosaur’ (we’re speaking about suffixes here, not whole words.) The relationship of ‘dinosaur’ to ‘extinction’ is well-established. OED’s second definition of ‘dinosaur’, "A person or thing that is outdated or has become obsolete ...”explicitly establishes this relationship.

    I don’t think anyone who hears the ending ‘-saur’, suffixed to the name of an animal to which it might be applied, will have any problem associating the ‘saur-form' of an animal name with the source-term, ‘dinosaur’ and the implied status of that animal.

    Especially not after this usage has been introduced and explained a few times in general conversation (social media helping that process along considerably.)

    On your second point: The related meaning carried by the partial ending is not specific to the primary meaning of the term ‘dinosaur’. It refers to a secondary, but well known, characteristic of dinosaurs i.e., that of being extinct. Every time the word ‘dinosaur’ is used, we are automatically aware that we are talking about an extinct creature.

    This is certainly understood by anyone discussing dinosaurs in any context. The only thing different here is that using ‘-saur’, as a suffix, associates the combined form with that secondary property to which the word ‘saur’ vectors, 'extinction'. Not really a difficult thing to convey to anyone who is familiar with the term ‘dinosaur’ and its status.

    • I'm not aware of any -saur word of the type you suggest.

    There isn’t any, other than its principle source, ‘dinosaur’. That is what makes using this entirely new application of the '–saur' ending possible. Because ‘saur’ is unique as a suffix, and specific to the word ‘dinosaur’. It ('saur') associates itself with that word, and only that word. It has no competition from the other familiar words that might alter or dilute that association. Putting the 'saur' ending on some word establishes a many-to-one relationship, which is what one wants to do in such cases.

    • Although the whole word dinosaur has connotations of 'doomed to extinction', neither of its constituent parts has that connotation.

    Exactly. They are parts of another word that carries the generic connotation of "extinction" and is fairly unique in that feature. '–saur' associates, in ordinary speech, with only one word, and that word, 'dinosaur' has a strong relationship to the subject ‘extinction’. Any other animal that gets tagged with it is certain to carry that inference.

    It is fortuitous that there is such a word-ending that associates uniquely to a word which supplies the characteristic desired. Since there is no other suffix or prefix that really does that, '-saur' is a natural choice. I would say the requirement for a word-part that provides such a link is sufficiently accomplished by the use of ‘-saur’ as a suffix for animals facing extinction.

    • The ending is an unstressed syllable. If I wanted to invent a blend to be understood as 'party on the edge of extinction', it would be one that used the stressed element — dinoparty.

    I can’t at all agree with this item. I have no problem saying, ‘elephantisaur’. Do you? I think arguments about stressed syllables put a rather formalistic straight-jacket on things and would discourage otherwise perfectly good combining forms for rather arbitrary reasons. You wouldn't want to stress the element of this form in any case . It's an only an indicator of the status of the animal. The animal being talked about remains the primary subject. The stress on the ending is going vary for speakers anyway, certainly for regional and dialectical differences.

    As for ‘dino-‘ as the combining form, I think there are good reasons for not going there besides the fact that it is rather clunky, inelegant way of doing the same thing, in my opinion. That is, unless one is using 'dino' as a superlative as in, “That was a huge party. A dinoparty of a party!” It types the signifier with some unspecified property of dinosaurs (size, location, diet, ....) It also might confuse things, considering the homophonic variant, ‘dyno’ (as in ‘dynamite’ or ‘dynamo’.) One would have to ask, "Was the party boring and old-fashioned, or a really great party?"

    Using 'dino-' as a prefixed combining form also importantly buries the target word, the named animal, behind itself, which makes it more difficult to tell what one is actually talking about and tends weaken the subject being discussed. '-saur' just kind of quietly slips itself into the subject, suggestively, subtextually, but not in any dominanting way.

    • In any case, how would an elephanotsaur be a different beast from an elephant?

    To begin, if "elephanotsaur" wasn’t a typo on your part, I think ‘elephant’ would be rendered as ‘elephantisaur’, or with some other variant in its connecting vowel, in my playbook. To the main point, ‘elephantisaur’ and ‘elephant’ are the same beast, it is true. But with very different associative implications attached to them, which is the whole point of the proposal.

    It is the suffix that makes all the difference by calling attention to the animal’s status, not by differentiating ‘elephant’ from some other species or variety of elephant. For species that are well known to be threatened, the use may not have as much importance as might otherwise be the case. But, if someone were speaking to me about the kakapo (a rare, endangered parrot), I would much appreciate hearing them refer to a ‘kakapoasaur’ instead. That immediately cues me on something very important about the creature besides the bird’s mating song and the color of its feathers, etc. This would be true, no matter what the context of the discussion.

    David, I don't know if this dispels any of your reservations. It's my best shot, and I think the argument for '-saur' still makes a strong case for itself.

  • David, granted you don't much care for the '-saur' compound to indicate an endangered species, there is something you might enlighten me about predicting how actual usage would select for preferred compound forms for different animal names.

    As I mentioned there is wide variability in how the name of a species, as well as the choice of connecting vowel sound, might be modified by different people. Regional and personal speech habits and dialects would certainly play a part as well. My question is, are there some general observations/rules from phonology that might predict or suggest what the preferred forms will turn out to be?

    For example, 'rhinosaur' seems pretty obvious. The short form of rhinoceros is already established and naturally offers the phonically needed connecting vowel. But my own natural preference for 'tiger', for instance, would be 'tigersaur', rather than tigerasaur or some other vowel-adding variant. Names which have their own vowel endings are fairly obvious, (vaquita=vaquitasaur, gorilla=gorillasaur...). But 'elephant', 'orangutan', 'tiger', 'leopard' and many other names don't provide such easily compounded handles. Orangutan might possibly become 'orangasaur', but the short form, 'orang' is not standard for the species name.

    I'm wondering what phonology might tell us about the preferred forms that might evolve over time should people wish to attach the '-saur' endings to the names of endangered species? Is there a set of general rules/tendencies that might be at work in the process?

  • @redslider

    1.
    The statement
    X is a dinosaur
    may express the idea that X is on the point of extinction — but only of X is not an actual dinosaur.

    To say
    This dinosaur was a dinosaur
    is to say nothing.

    To say
    Tyrannosaurus Rex was a dinosaur
    is to state a classification.

    When somebody uses the word dinosaur to speak of an actual a dinosaur, my mental picture is of a living and thriving creature.
    Ask any primary-school child and I think you'll hear the same.

    The metaphor
    That politician is a real old dinosaur
    was coined when the wide-held view was that dinosaurs had failed to evolve and adapt to a changing world. I don't think anybody believes that any more. The only uncertainty is how long it took for them to die out after an asteroid crashed into the Gulf of Mexico. Moreover, the idea is gaining ground that they didn't die out at all, that they they did indeed evolve and adapt — and are currently known as 'birds'.

    2.
    When new animals were discovered in the past, two common naming strategies were

    • to adopt a word from indigenous people — e.g. kangaroo.
    • to use the name of a familiar creature and qualify it with a descriptive adjective — e.g. spiny anteater.
      Some names used both strategies — e.g. koala bear.

    A variant of the second strategy was to use the name of another animal as the descriptive part — e.g. elephant seal.

    The two-word strategy is pleasing easy to remember, which is probably why Linnaeus devised his system with a general word followed by a descriptive word. The difference from popular coinings was that the general word was for something discovered to be a group — whether or not it already existed as a familiar concept.

    Biologists also used the two-part strategy to name individual species. But this started when Latin was the medium of scientific writing. Moreover, the tradition in Latin was to adopt Greek compound words such as octopus ('eight' + 'foot'), or to build compound words out of Greek elements such as dinosaur ('terrible' + 'lizard').

    I don't think biologists have changed their practice in principle even though they are not longer familiar with Latin or Greek. As far as I know, new species are named in pseudo-Latin incorporating non-Latin/non-Greek (often English) words.

    Non-biologists don't discover and name species, but they do sometimes produce and name new strains. Here we sometimes find the recent fashion for blends. South African winemakers produced a strain which was as cross of pinot noir with a grape (misnamed) hermitage. They called it pinotage. Dog breeders have produced crosses such as labradoodle (a labrador crossed with a poodle).

  • redsliderredslider
    edited April 18

    @DavidCrosbie

    David, your arguments are really too irrelevant, uninformed and time consuming. It seems clear to me you are all wrapped up in constraining language to its most literal functions and interpretations, in this case to some biological significance to which words may apply, to taxonomic designations and classifications which they may assign, or some authority which you suggest is privileged to make those assignments. What you suggest would actually dump the baby of language out and preserve the bathwater.

    To begin, there is nothing I have said, not a hint, that suggests putting the suffix ‘-saur’ on the names of species of animals has anything to do with designating the species itself. It is nothing more than a suffix which adds a connotative association to another animal that has the characteristic of being extinct as one of its primary attributes. All of your arguments that attempt to relate the named animal ('rhino', 'tiger', 'elephant'), qua species, to another animal (the dinosaur) as a species are really specious arguments. Nowhere does my proposal suggest doing any such thing.

    Your first point is equally mired in a false association which you have created yourself. It only reveals that you are fixated on some literally constrained use of language that doesn't have anything to do with its actual use and practice. You state:

    X is a dinosaur
    may express the idea that X is on the point of extinction — but only of X is not an actual dinosaur.

    (I presume "only of" was a typo, and you meant “but only if X is not...”) Of course it is the case that "X is not a dinosaur. We’re talking about using a suffix with the common names of animals that are endangered, not ones that are already extinct. The whole point was to permit a speaker to designate the endangered status of an existing animal, if they wished, through the simple annexation of a suffix. Did you not get that?

    On your first point, you are very mistaken and appear to either lack knowledge of semiotics, or choose to ignore it altogether. I really can’t tell which. You state,”

    To say
    This dinosaur was a dinosaur
    is to say nothing.

    Leaving aside the fact that my original suggestion affords no application for using the name of an extinct animal as a candidate for receiving the suffix ‘saur’, your statement is inaccurate on the face of it.

    The expression, “This dinosaur was a dinosaur” can be quite sensible and useful in ordinary language. Imagine two people in a natural history museum looking at a display of a replica of a dinosaur which is woefully out of date in its representation of dinosaurs. Given the existence of homophones in English (which we have already discussed, along with the use of puns based on them) it is both understandable and humorous for one of them to say, “this dinosaur (species) is a dinosaur (obsolete).” Even more so given the ordinary inflections and emphasis that accompanies our utterances such as saying, “this dinosaur is a REAL DINOSAUR (employing both the homophones, ‘dinosaur’ and ‘real’)

    I’d completely understand such an expression, and be LMAO if I heard that expression used in that context.

    Language as it it used, as I suggested earlier, doesn’t fit in the cumbersome straight-jackets you seem to want to put it in. It just doesn’t work that way. The real criteria for the acceptance and use of words or other structures is whether they improve our abilities to communicate, provide important meanings or nuances that aren't available in our current lexicon, and do that in ways that are meaningful, interesting and sonically plausible.

    Here, we are simply adding a suffix to some existing nouns to indicate a status of that noun. Not much different than we use suffixes on verbs to indicate tense. Only, in this case, the suffix does so by being associated with another noun that carries the attribute we wish to affix to the primary noun. It is actually a weaker, but more generically useful, way of doing this than doing it with adjectives, which have the downside of making the subject focus on the adjective(s) rather than the noun.

    Your arguments also entirely ignore the significance of signs, likenesses, similarities, nuance, connotation, designators, symbolism, metaphor, signification, analogy, allegory, metonymy, and the whole range of communicative processes that make our language as facile and supple as it is. These are all things treated by semiotics, which is why I think you don’t really have a good grasp on that subject.

    Your last few paragraphs are just dead wrong. > "Non-biologists don't discover and name new species...."

    Poppycock. Here's a little tidbit that might interest you. It seems that more than 60% of the new species discovered in Europe from 1998-2007 were by amateur taxonomists and hobbyists and people who just found something and were curious about it (https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/amateur-naturalists-are-discovering-all-kinds-of-new-insect-species-20573477/).

    Did they get to name them, too? I would expect a fair number of the amateur taxonomists probably had something to do with it. I wouldn't doubt that a good number of the non-scientist discoverers at least had their names affixed to subparts of the scientific name, which is customary. So even in the realm of scientific discovery and naming you are wrong. And we're not even talking, here, about scientific names. We are talking about common names of animals. Common names of animals don't normally come from science at all. The names of the planets, the names of many of the visible stars don't either. They are all "common" names because they are used all the time both by scientists and non-scientists alike. I don't really think the guy in the lab coat asks his partner if he fed the Macaca Mullata yet.

    Non-scientists out of the name-game? Here's a really outstanding example that puts that argument to bed. The fellow who named two of the most important astronomical structures in the universe was an astronomer? No, he was a teacher of Hawaiian language at UH-Hilo. 'Laniakea' and 'Powehi' were his contributions. Is there a scientific designation? Sure, Powehi is 'NGC 4486 /Messier 87'. How many press reports do you think used that for a name in their stories of the first confirmed black hole?

    In any case your arguments are really uninformed and plain wrong in their understanding of how language works and what makes it as useful as it is. You constrain things within a very limited, formulaic fence of scientific nomenclature and its processes which is really not at all what the subject I presented is about. Nor are your statements true within your own constraints.

    It is a misconstruction to characterize the subject as having something related to re-naming species. the subject is about a suffix that might impart a little more important information about a particular class of existing species that are in danger of extinction. That’s all it is about.

    It seems to me you are mainly being argumentative for the sake of being argumentative. In any case, besides being wrong in many particulars, the arguments you are making don't have much to do with my original proposal. I have little reason to continue this conversation. Not a useful way to spend my time.

    I do hope there are others with more constructive things to say. That was my intent in posting it. I'll just have to wait and see.

  • it is both understandable and humorous for one of them to say, “this dinosaur (species) is a dinosaur (obsolete).”

    Humorous? Maybe. Understandable? Not to me. Not in a million years. That's why answered you, trying — unsuccessfully, I see — to be helpful.

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