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Dracontology

Pronounced /drəkɒnˈtɒlədʒɪ/Help with pronunciation

Strictly speaking, dracontology should refer to the study of dragons, although it really means the study of lake animals unknown to science.

It derives from Greek drakon, serpent (plus –ology from a Greek ending that indicated the study of a subject). It’s a kissing cousin to the almost equally rare adjectives draconiform and dracontine, both of which refer to a thing like a dragon. (Draconian, of some law or punishment that is excessively severe, comes instead from Draco, an Athenian legislator of the seventh century BC who made Attila the Hun look like a pussycat.)

However, those enthusiasts who have an interest in this specialist branch of cryptozoology — the study of animals unknown to science — have hijacked the word for the investigation of such fabulous beasts as the Loch Ness Monster in Scotland and the serpent of Lake Memphrémagog on the Quebec-Vermont border. A site devoted to the latter claims that the word was coined by “a monk at the monastery of St Benoit-du-Lac in response to a request by Jacques Boisvert, a Quebec monster enthusiast who needed a name for the specific study of lake monsters”.

That small group of researchers who use dracontology for the study of dragons would wish that the good brother had found a less confusing term. How about cryptolacustribestiology? No? I can’t blame you — it’s almost as long as Nessie herself.

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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
Page created 20 Apr. 2002

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The English language is forever changing. New words appear; old ones fall out of use or alter their meanings. World Wide Words tries to record at least a part of this shifting wordscape by featuring new words, word histories, words in the news, and the curiosities of native English speech.

World Wide Words is copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
This page URL: http://www.worldwidewords.org/weirdwords/ww-dra1.htm
Last modified: 20 April 2002.