Last weekend I went to a wildlife park* which had, among other things, a dinosaur section (not real dinosaurs, obviously – don’t worry, Jurassic Park hasn’t quietly happened in Hertfordshire). And I saw this word on one of the information signs. A thagomizer is the spiky bit of a stegosaurus’s tail (other dinosaurs are available). Here’s one in animatronic glory:
The term ‘thagomizer’ was invented in 1982 by a cartoonist called Gary Larson, the creator of The Far Side, beloved of humorous birthday cards everywhere. The cartoon shows a caveman lecturer giving a slideshow with a picture of a stegosaurus’s tail. He’s saying: ‘Now this end is called the thagomizer ... after the late Thag Simmons.’
Before the cartoon was published, the arrangement of spikes wasn’t called anything at all. And because palaeontologists are a wacky lot (I’m assuming they’re all like Ross from Friends, right?), one called Ken Carpenter from the Denver Museum of Nature and Science adopted it when describing a fossil at the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology’s AGM in 1993. It’s now widely used in respected scientific circles including at the Smithsonian, and in the BBC documentary series Planet Dinosaur.
You can see the actual cartoon here.
*With my friend and her child. Not on my own. That would be weird.