Like “kryptonite” and “milquetoast”https://screenrant.com/far-side-stegosaurus-tail-thagomizer-comic/,”thagomizer” also has its root in comics. The stegosaurus’ spiked tail was named by Gary Larson’s The Far Side.
Sometimes comics, including The Far Side, are responsible for coining new words and phrases, such as kryptonite, milquetoast, and “keeping up with the Joneses”. The words that become common in usage are usually rather colloquial and the term thagomizer is no exception. It is the current – and only – specific word used to describe part of a stegosaurus’ anatomical structure.
The Far Side is a comic composed of a single panel that began publishing in 1979. It is created by cartoonist Gary Larson and has won several awards. This comic is easily recognizable, particularly given its surreal humor and Larson’s distinctive style. It ran through 1995 and went on hiatus until 2020. Despite this lengthy gap in publication, the comic has certainly left its stamp on paleontological circles during its initial circulation.
Before the publication of the strip in 1982, there wasn’t really a term that was used to refer to the end of a stegosaurus’ tail. The entire appendage is a tail, but the section with spikes was naturally only referred to as a spiked tail or tail with spikes. However, the strip gave it a new name – by means of a caveman giving a presentation in a lecture hall. The comic strip is paired with a caption using thagomizer, and says this dubbing is in reference to, “the late Thag Simmons” – a prehistoric person who presumably lost his life thanks to a stegosaurus’ combat tactics. It may not be a professional term, but according to Smithsonian Magazine, it was very much used by paleontologists themselves for fun.
Like Smithsonian, Discover – another popular science periodical – reflects on the use of the term by paleontologists, noting a presentation by Ken Carpenter. This occurred at the 1993 Society of Vertebrate Paleontology Annual Meeting, which was held at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. Thagomizer is also used within an encyclopedia of dinosaurs by Dr. Thomas R. Holtz, Jr. Dr. Holtz is a professor at the University of Maryland and he has written numerous publications about dinosaurs within various academic journals. His book, Dinosaurs: The Most Complete, Up-to-Date Encyclopedia for Dinosaur Lovers of All Ages (2007), references Carpenter’s academic work, noting that “there is no sign that any Stegosaurus species had more than two pairs of spikes on its thagomizer.” The term may be colloquial, but it certainly serves an educational purpose and has made its rounds within the scientific community.
Contemporary comics definitely have a role to play in lexicon expansion. Kryptonite is an easy way to refer to a weakness, while milquetoast describes a person’s demeanor. The major commonality between the two is that they also have a comic origin, albeit not in The Far Side. Larson’s work has a tendency to use lecture halls and classrooms within its storytelling. Dinosaurs and cavepeople are also common subjects, with one strip flipping the tables by having a stegosaurus deliver a lecture to its fellow species about their low chances of survival. It may not be considered the most academic venue for vocabulary building, but comics are far more influential than initially believed, as the thagomizer and The Far Side easily prove.
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