4. The Word "Dinosaur" Is Coined, 1842


In 1842, the anatomist Richard Owen attempted to bring order to the recent discoveries of prehistoric reptiles. In what we today would call a "review article," Owen discussed in considerable detail all of the bones and teeth found by Gideon Mantell, William Buckland, and many others, and he tried valiantly to sort them out in good Linnaean fashion. He found that three of the vanished genera--Iguanodon, Megalosaurus, and Hylaeosaurus-- shared similarities in the structure of their vertebrae, and in their sturdy, elephant-like posture. So Owen grouped them as a sub-order in the Saurian order, and he called them: Dinosauria, the "terrible lizards". The term "dinosaur" was born.

Since the volume that holds Owen's paper purports to be the proceedings of the 1841 annual meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, it has always been assumed that Owen used the term "dinosaur" when he delivered his paper in July 1841. And indeed, in 1991 there were numerous celebrations in England of the 150th anniversary of the Dinosaur. It was recently discovered, however, that Owen made no mention of dinosaurs in his presented paper; it was not until writing his article for publication that he invented his new suborder.

Owen's paper was not illustrated, so we show a detail of the page where he proposed the name Dinosauria and mentioned its three most illustrious genera by name.


Owen, Richard. "Report on British fossil reptiles. Part II," in: Report of the Eleventh Meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, held at Plymouth, July 1841, pp. 66-204. This work was on display in the original exhibition as item 4.

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