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1650s, "of the third order, rank, degree, etc.," from Latin tertiarius "of or pertaining to a third," from tertius "third, a third," from root of tres "three" (see three). The geological sense (with capital T-) of "era after the Mesozoic" (which formerly was called the Secondary) is attested from 1794, after Italian terziari, used in this sense 1760 by Italian geologist Giovanni Arduino (1714-1795).
tertiary ter·ti·ar·y (tûr'shē-ěr'ē)
Third in place, order, degree, or rank.
Of or relating to salts of acids containing three replaceable hydrogen atoms.
Of or relating to organic compounds in which a group is bound to three nonelementary radicals.
Noun Tertiary. The first period of the Cenozoic Era, from about 65 to 2 million years ago. During this time the continents took on their present form, and the climate changed from being warmer and wetter, in the early part of the period, to being drier and cooler in the later part. Mammals replaced dinosaurs as the dominant form of terrestrial animal life, and many modern types of flowering plants, insects, mollusks, fish, amphibians, reptiles, and birds appeared. The Tertiary is subdivided into the Paleogene and the Neogene, although these terms are not as widely used as are the names of the epochs that constitute them. See Chart at geologic time.