[Taxacom] "serpentine lizards" or snakes?

Ken Kinman kinman at hotmail.com
Fri Jul 21 22:54:08 CDT 2006

Dear All,
      Peter Dodson really hates the phrase "non-avian dinosaurs" when strict 
cladists use it to refer to traditional dinosaurs.  What I hate even more is 
when strict cladists say "avian dinosaurs" when referring to a living bird 
taxon.  They seem to think it is somehow "clever" to say avian dinosaurs 
rather than birds.

      This a bit like saying "serpentine lizards" instead of snakes.  
Granted, this is complicated even further by the fact that there are legless 
lizards which are unrelated to snakes, but it is even more complicated in 
the case of birds ("avian dinosaurs") because there is no agreement 
(especially among strict cladists) what constitutes the taxon AVES.   Thus 
avian dinosaur (or bird) can either refer only to living birds, or it can 
refer to Archaeopteryx and everything else phylogenetically leading up to 
the living bird clade (which is normally called Neornithes).  Anyway, 
calling birds "avian dinosaurs" seems to me to be a form of legalese that 
obfuscates far more than it clarifies, much like that now famous phrase "it 
depends on what the meaning of is is".  It is even worse when it involves 
formal taxon names (and thus PhyloCode).  :-(
    ----Ken Kinman

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