On dinosaur names

Just a little fun from here:

The very helpful lamna said “And the plural of triceratops is triceratops. Like the plural of sheep is sheep.”

Is it really?

The Anglo-saxons did not know about triceratopses and did not include that word in their list of animal plurals (as opposed to plurals for people, objects, and things that would have an umlaut in Old High German). “Triceratops” is a modern English word and should therefor decline like other regular plural nouns in English. Book-books, triceratops-triceratopses.

The other alternative would be to decline it like the Ancient Greek. Marsh chose the word “Triceratops” to describe his newly-discovered genus becuase the word comes from Ancient Greek tri (three) kerat (horned) ops (eye, but figuratively face). “Ops” is well attested from Ancient Greek sources and has the full compliment of Greek plural forms. One triceratops, two triceratope, three or more triceratopes.

But why force English into the mold of Ancient Greek just for plurals and duals versus singulars? If we wanted to be really “accurate,” wouldn’t the word also have to follow other Greek rules? Thus “The triceratops is given ferns” but “I give ferns to the triceratopi.” “That is the triceratopos fern.” “I ride the triceratopa.”

But that would just be silly. 🙂



Partridge, Eric, Usage and Abusage: A Guide to Good English, revised by Janet Whitcut (New York and London: W. W. Norton, 1997), pp. 238–39.

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