What images do you conjure when you hear the word dragons? Do you see the evil, fire-breathing creature with a reptilian body prevalent in Western lore? Or do you visualize the wise, benevolent creatures popular in Chinese culture? Throughout history, these strange, mythical creatures appear in a wide variety of physical forms and temperaments. Perhaps because of this, humankind has created many different words related to dragons.
Love French cuisine? Tarragon is a key ingredient in French bernaise sauce and a favorite seasoning in many French dishes.
So what’s this anise-flavored herb got to do with dragons? No, dragons don’t taste better seasoned with tarragon. Or at least we’ve heard no credible argument that they do. Rather, tarragon’s Latin name, dracunculus, literally means “little dragon.” The little dragon moniker is often attributed to its physical roots, which some say resemble a whorl of twisted serpents. Others attribute the name to its multitude of thin, pointed leaves that resemble the sharp tongues of serpents.
Is it any wonder that Ancient Greeks and Romans considered tarragon a remedy for snake bites?
Drakes & Wyverns
Dragons and dragon-like creatures may be mere myths today, but they were very real to people in medieval times. And because stories of dragons were spread mostly by word of mouth, there was ample overlap between these reptilian types.
Mythological dragons were typically described as having four limbs and large wings affixed to their backs. And they breathed fire. In comparison, drakes were considered adolescent versions of dragons, not yet fully developed but still loathsome. They do, however, sported two pairs of limbs but no wings on each side of the body.
Likewise, wyverns were considered smaller and less powerful than their fearsome dragon cousins. However, wyverns had only two front limbs with a small set of wings. They also had scorpion-like stingers at the tips of their tails. And while they didn’t breathe fire, their breath was no less deadly. Medieval people laid the cause of the Bubonic plague squarely at the feet of wyverns. And if that wasn’t bad enough, they fed on small children, too.
It should be noted that dragons enjoy a far better reputation in Chinese lore than their Western counterparts. During the Chinese empire, the reptilian creature was revered for its wisdom, power, and for the good luck it was believed to bring. Even today, the Chinese celebrate dragons in various festivals.
Tianlong is one of the nine types of beloved dragons in the People’s Republic of China. Like the other eight, it’s comprised of body parts from various animals–camels, dogs, eagles, and more. But it can also shapeshift into human or other forms. Tianlong dragons are recognized as guardians of the Gods and protectors of their royal homes in the heavens.
Afraid of encountering a bunyip? Stay out of the swamps and the murky billabongs! Women and children should be especially afraid, for they are a favorite snack of these huge, smelly beasts.
A concoction of aboriginal Australian lore, bunyips have been described in various physical terms. Some feature a manatee shape, with huge fangs and dog-like faces. Other times, they have fur or scales. Like many dragons and sea monsters, they seem to inhabit deep and dark waters. But that’s the premise of mythical monsters. They give life to whatever nightmares a given community or region most fears.
Traditional physical descriptions of dragons include similarities to serpents and snakes, albeit on a much larger scale. But what is a serpent, and, more importantly, what does it historically represent in culture?
In Genesis, serpents are vile, deceptive creatures God cursed to crawl on their bellies and eat dust for all eternity. In the West, it is no compliment to call someone a “snake in the grass.” In the ancient Sumerian civilization, however, serpents represent fertility, renewal, and healing. And Chinese tradition celebrates serpents and snakes as symbols of good luck.
Words related to dragons, like serpents, and the mental images they create depend much on cultural history.
Creature. It’s an elusive word, isn’t it?
There are few words related to dragons that can accurately capture the range of physical characteristics that describe these inhuman beasts. Are they sea monsters? Or are they winged animals that reside on mountaintops or in hidden caves? How many heads do they have? How many legs? And where does Japan’s radioactive Godzilla fit into the mix? Without definitive answers across all cultures, it’s convenient to categorize all dragons, good and evil alike, as simply creatures.
Much like drakes and wyverns, wyrms were also a variation of the traditional dragon. Sporting neither limbs nor wings, they still got around quite nicely in swampy, boggy environments. And due to their magical powers, they could even fly.
People in ancient times needed explanations for the things they feared, hoped for, or simply did not understand. They imagined dragons and other horrific creatures to take the blame for floods, horrific storms, drought, and pestilence. Today, modern society has relegated these monsters to lore.
The fantastical allure of dragons, however, remains strong to this day. Dragons have found new life in the fantasy genre–in books, movies, and especially role-playing games. In one particular world of fantasy born from the Dragonlance series of books, Draconians are a race of humans with dragon-like features. These same books gave rise to the popular Dungeons and Dragons role-playing game.
List of Words Related to Dragons
- Mythical Monster
- Mythical being
- Winged creature
- Legendary creature
- Smaug (from “The Hobbit” by J.R.R. Tolkien)
- Fabled creature
- Mythical monster
- Drakon (Greek word for dragon)
- Sea serpent
- Cloud dragon
- Celestial dragon
- Ice dragon
- Shadow dragon
- Dungeon dragon
- Ancient dragon