Sunday, November 05, 2023

Geology in Art - The Far Side

Gary Larson is most well-known as the comic artist who created The Far Side, which ran from December 31, 1979, to January 1, 1995. The Far Side was a series of one-off single panel comics that basically poked fun at nearly every aspect of everyday life. He has since returned to producing The Far Side comics in 2020, which can be found currently on his website:

Back in 1982, an issue of The Far Side ran that featured what can essentially be called a presentation (a scientific presentation?) where one caveman is lecturing a group of cave people about the tail of a Stegosaurus. At which point he says 
"Now, this end is called the thagomizer ... after the late Thag Simmons."
It is from here that we don't have geology influencing art, but art influencing geology, or more specifically, paleontology. 

Stegosaurus from the Field Museum, Chicago, IL

Prior to this, the tail spikes of a Stegosaurus did not have a scientific name associated with them. However, paleontologists often do have a sense of humor and after awhile they started to incorporate the name into scientific presentations and literature. It started in 1993 when Ken Carpenter, a paleontologist then with the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, used the term while describing a new species of Stegosaurus during a presentation for the annual Society of Vertebrate Paleontology meeting. 

Following that, the term spread and was included in actual scientific publications including 1997's The Complete Dinosaur. From 2000 on, the usage of "thagomizer" exploded both in the scientific literature and outside of it. And while there are some holdouts that this term is not scientifically valid, continued consistent usage in the scientific literature is a requisite for scientific validity and this seems to have satisfied that requisite. 

Usage of the term "thagomizer" through time. Courtesy of Google NGram


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