Great moments in pedantry: Raptor vs. raptor

Events like this make an excellent case study for palaeozoologist Darren Naish's argument that we need to find a new nickname for dromaeosaurids—one that is not already being used by a significantly less terrifying class of animals. "Hey everybody, let's go to the Spring Raptor Release!" is kind of the "Let's eat, Grandma!" of species classification.

Via Laelaps


  1. Tricky. I think the problem affects only English speakers, IIRC. What’s in for us non-Anglos?

    1. We still only use raptor when talking about dinosaurs. That’s the only use of that word that I’ve read about till now, even though I’ve read of the other use. I think it’s similar to a reverse anglicism in English itself, like the word “handy” is used in German for cell phone. This is an english word, that means something different for English speakers than the rest, even if both meanings are true.

      Now I don’t know if I explained that right, I’m still confused myself.

      1. What do you call eagles/owls/hawks? Or possibly neither of you have any particular interest in birds and have just not run into words like ‘raptor’ or ‘passerine’.

          1. It appears that the German word for a bird of the order Falconiformes is Greifvögel.  I guess that raptor is an English term.  I would have assumed that anything that close to Latin would be more universally used.

        1. Actually, most German will probably just call them all “Raubvögel”, like they call predators “Raubtiere”. 

          It’s not like they didn’t knew their animals until the Romans cam along, after all.

      2. I am a native British English speaker who was only really aware of the ornithological sense of the term. (Now I think about it, yes, it is used in another sense in Jurassic Park, but I did not know it had caught on.) A lot of my information comes from the BBC and not the internet which might explain it.

      3. Actually, handy isn’t a reverse anglicism. It comes from handie-talkie, a smaller kind of walkie-talkie.

  2. There is a wonderful moment where you actually wonder, “Are scientists really going to release velociraptors into the wild?”  What a magical thing, full of wonder and longing.  In the end, of course, you are forced back to reality, to the mundane, but for one brief instant you can see vast herds of velociraptors riding across the prairie of your imagination.

  3. Sorry, I just don’t see the downside here.

    BORING: “Hey kids, want to go see some ornithologists talk about owls?”
    AWESOME: “Hey kids, want to go to the RAPTOR RELEASE?”

  4. “Raptor” has been in use in regards to predatory birds for a very long time, coming originally from the Latin itself, “raptor” for thief, derived from “rapiō / rapere”, meaning to snatch, grab, or carry off, which perfectly describes their hunting behavior.

    While paleontologists may have been justified in calling a certain species of dinosaur “velociraptor”, or “speed snatcher”, they probably should have thought about the consequences of using the ornithologically associated term.

    Of course, the real culprit is Jurassic Park. That’s where the average person’s knowledge of “raptors” comes from, ultimately. And until there’s some massive blockbuster film about predatory birds (or until enough time passes for JP to lose influence culturally), I think the confusion will remain.

    Good tip though – when you see the word used, just by default expect it to be the bird usage. It’s the far more common one.

    1. “when you see the word used, just by default expect it to be the bird usage. It’s the far more common one.”

      Are you sure? I never see it mentioning owls, but perhaps I spend too much time on the Internet. There are a lot of raptor memes.

    2. Perhaps I was unduly influenced doing support work for a raptor rescue program at a biological field station (which was *not* located on Isla Nublar), but I always use “raptor” for birds.

    3. I’d be surprised if paleontologists DIDN’T think about the consequences of using an ornithologically associated term to describe dinosaurs that were specifically noted for having bird-like features and in fact are now part of the very same clade as ‘actual’ raptors.

      The article’s comparison of calling sauropods “elephants” is not even close to analogous and I hope the author is embarrassed about it.

  5. There are even scientists who use “raptors” to mean protozoan predators, which make these look pretty similar. But why do dromaeosaurs need a nickname if tyrannosaurs, pachycephalosaurs, and stegosaurs don’t get them?

  6. If you told netizens that bacon is actually pig you’d be doxed by anon, flamed on twitter and have your IP address banned from 4chan for life… So don’t go telling me a raptor is anything but what popular culture has lead me to believe!

    Also: XKCD!

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