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Etymological insecticide

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This story continues the attempts of the previous week to catch a flea. Anyone who will take the trouble to look at the etymology of the names of the flea, louse, bedbug, and their blood-sucking allies in a dozen languages will discover that almost nothing is known for certain about it. This fact either means that we are dealing with very old words whose beginnings can no longer be discovered or that the names have been subject to taboo (consequently, the initial form is beyond recognition), or, quite likely, both factors were in play. Common sense suggests that those names should refer to stinging, biting, color, size, and shape, or the parasites’ deleterious effect, but of course onomatopoeia should not be discounted either: though fleas and lice are silent, mosquitoes are not. It always amuses me that the standard etymology of the Russian word komar “mosquito” (stress on the second syllable) refers kom to sound imitation. Do those pestiferous insects buzz kommm? Hmm, perhaps. The German for “bumblebee” is Hummel, but bumblebees really “hum.” To make matters worse, if the name whose origin we are exploring means “pest” or “biter,” or “buzzer,” it will fit more than one insect. What word can be simpler than tick? Doesn’t it tickle before it digs itself in? Tickle is rather obviously sound-symbolic. One of its variants is kittle (compare German kitzeln), and its shorter relative is tick (verb); tick-tack-toe also comes to mind. It does not seem that any dictionary is ready to connect tick and tickle. Armenian tiz means “beetle.” A cognate, a chance parallel? Irish dega “stag beetle” has been compared with tick, but how far does this comparison lead? Wherever we may look, we end up with similar lists. That is why when I see the reconstructed root of the word flea represented as bhsul– or bhlus-, I question their reality (was there such a “root”?). Nor does the occasionally invoked closeness between flea and fleece fill me with enthusiasm. Johann N. Hummel,. . .

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News source: Linguistics – OUPblog

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