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Why is the word raptor not written as 'raptor when used as the abbreviated name for velociraptor?

  • For the first part, raptor simply means bird of prey. It's a word all by itself. For the second, see What is the difference between "till" and "until". – Robusto Dec 28 '14 at 5:42
  • @Robusto I am aware of the meaning of the word raptor, but it is by no means unusual to use it in reference to the dinosaur (in which case it certainly does not mean "a bird of prey"). The link you give even lists the dinosaur as one of the definitions. The information about the relative relationship of til and until is interesting. I'll remove that part from the question to streamline and clarify it. – Geoffrey Dec 28 '14 at 5:49
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    When abbreviations become established, they tend to drop apostrophes. So 'bus and 'phone are rarely encountered except in period literature nowadays. While there would seem more scope for ambiguity with raptor, context will almost always disambiguate. It's probably just that leading (and often other) apostrophes seem rather antiquated to most people. We seem to be losing fo'c's'l, sadly. – Edwin Ashworth Dec 28 '14 at 9:19
  • @Geoffrey: You are mistaken in saying that raptor does not contain an apostrophe. It does in fact contain an apostrophe. In speech, of course, since apostrophes are silent, nobody can hear it; but it's definitely there; of course, in speech many people put it in the wrong place, but nobody notices. However, many people don't like initial apostrophes and therefore omit it in writing. – John Lawler Dec 28 '14 at 17:21
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There are two things going on here. The first is that raptor is not cleanly synonymous in this sense with velociraptor because the word is used as both a synonym and a hypernym; raptor being also used as an informal name for dromæosauridæ generally as they all share the bird-like features (both confirmed and suspected) that raptor evokes (due to its further senses of birds of prey) and because several sub-groups, genera and species have names ending in -raptor.* As such even when using raptor as a synonym of velociraptor there is an introduced vagueness because the word you are using is also a hypernym. This means it is not as clean a synonym as with some other cases where one may choose between an informal and scientific name.

Note that while in many of these cases we can arrive at raptor by contraction, we cannot do so from the word that covers them all; dromæosauridæ. Raptor in this sense is not a contraction, but an expansion of a word formed by contraction or finding of common elements to cover a wider meaning.

Another more general point about the English language is that we don't tend to think of such coinages as contractions as consciously as we once did.

Up until around a century ago, it would have been very common to use apostrophes to indicate elision, and so we have don't, fo'c's'le, 'twas and so on.

Then it became more common to just abbreviate by contraction or elision without marking where the elision had been made, and so 'bus competed with bus, 'phone competed with phone and so on, depending on the styles of different writers and editors.

Since then the apostrophe has lost more and more ground in this use (and lost some other uses entirely or all but entirely). It is still used in this case, particularly when the writer fears the use might be obscure otherwise or is transcribing speech patterns they don't use themselves†, but we are much quicker to treat such contractions as independent words than as contractions requiring apostrophes, than once we were.


*There are luanchuanraptor, pamparaptor, variraptor, pyroraptor (these last two may be the same species), austroraptor, buitreraptor, neuquenraptor, tianyuraptor, graciliraptor, changyuraptor, microraptor, (these last four all examples of microraptorinæ), bambiraptor, atrociraptor, linheraptor (which like velociraptor is an example of velociraptorinæ) & utahraptor. There are also some which do not share this -raptor ending.

†I'd be more likely to writer 'king 'puter than king puter not just to avoid king becoming ambiguous bewteen a contraction of fucking and a male monarch, but also because that's not how I personally would swear at a computer.

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    Bambiraptor? Sometimes I worry about these palaeontologists. – Tim Lymington supports Monica Dec 28 '14 at 16:19
  • @TimLymington after the fawn of Disney fame, in reference to the young age of the first specimen found. – Jon Hanna Dec 28 '14 at 16:35
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    The namegiver was oviraptor (egg thief), which was initially thought to be associated with the eggs of various ceratopsians due to dietary proclivities. It turned out, on closer examination (and with the aid of x-rays) that the eggs were their own. It's not features in common with birds of prey, but with a poorly-named therapod, that gives raptors their name. – bye Dec 28 '14 at 20:11
  • @bye nice info, though I would suggest that it's features in common with Hollywood versions of birds of prey that, in common with Hollywood versions of velociraptors, gave that name currency. Still, considering raptor as "taker, seizer" your explanation makes the name make a lot more sense. – Jon Hanna Dec 29 '14 at 2:03

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