Sciency Words: Thagomizer (An A to Z Challenge Post)

Today’s post is a special A to Z Challenge edition of Sciency Words, an ongoing series here on Planet Pailly where we take a look at some interesting science or science related term so we can all expand our scientific vocabularies together. In today’s post, T is for:


Once upon a time, there was a caveman by the name of Thag Simmons. According to Gary Larson’s Far Side comic strip, Thag met an unfortunate end when he was clubbed to death by the spiky tail of a stegosaurus. As a result, cavemen began to call the stegosaur’s spiky tail a thagomizer.

Larson’s thagomizer comic was originally published in 1982. Death by thagomizer may sound like a gruesome way to go, but based on my own research about cavemen/dinosaur interactions, I have reason to believe Thag Simmons had it coming.

Over the course of this Sciency Words: A to Z series, we’ve seen some scientific terms that were pretty clever, and some that were kind of dumb, and a few that are truly misleading. But until now, we haven’t talked about scientific terms that come from pop culture.

In 1993, paleontologist Ken Carpenter was making a presentation about the most complete stegosaurus skeleton ever found, and he needed a term for the dinosaur’s distinctive spiky tail. One of the spikes had apparently broken and healed, which was compelling evidence that stegosaurs really did use their spiky tails as weapons.

In homage to Gary Larson, Carpenter chose the term thagomizer, and the term has now become the proper, semi-official term for that part of stegosaurus anatomy.

I want to thank @breakerofthings for letting me know about this term. I’d originally planned to do something else for T, but I think this was much better. Be sure to check out A Back of the Envelope Calculation, where “breaker” is doing an A to Z Challenge series on materials science in Sci-Fi/Fantasy.

Next time on Sciency Words: A to Z, how do you pronounce Uranus?

13 thoughts on “Sciency Words: Thagomizer (An A to Z Challenge Post)

  1. Thagomizer made it onto Wait, Wait, don’t tell Me” today, so I looked up Thag Simmons and found your lovely site.
    Chronic proofreader here… There’s a typo in the fifth paragraph: “… he needed a tern for the dinosaur’s distinctive spiky tail.” I’m sure you meant “term.”

    Liked by 1 person

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