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 makng a presentation about the most complete stegosaurus skeleton ever found, and he needed a tern 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?

11 responses »

  1. clicksclan says:

    It’s cool that popular culture helped to determine what the spiky tail would actually be called!

    Cait @ Click’s Clan

    Liked by 2 people

  2. @breakerofthings says:

    Thanks for the shout out! So is your orignally T going to make an appearance before next year?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Juneta says:

    lol I’m always learning when I visit this blog.
    Enjoyed reading. Happy A to Z Juneta @ Writer’s Gambit

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Kitten WAW says:

    Gary Larson, not Glen.

    Liked by 1 person

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