Wednesday, January 31, 2007

The Daily Hump: Caterpillar

I've always been a firm believer in never airing one's fears out in public. Perhaps it's unwarranted paranoia but putting this information out there opens one up to mental torture on a colossal scale. But a few years ago my grandmother, after surprising me by suddenly speaking German, told me that one should always know the language of one's enemy. By extension, I've come to realize we should also understand the language we use to identify our enemy, which is what brings me to today's hump, one of the banes of my existence, the caterpillar.

It's not so much I have a fear of caterpillars as much as they simply give me the willies. And I'm an animal person--I don't mind snakes, I like mice and rats, even most insects don't bother me. No, caterpillars (and millipedes and centipedes) hold a special place in my gut. I'm so acutely aware of caterpillars that I'm convinced I can smell their presence; I know this from the series of unscientific experiments I ran while mowing the lawn. I'd get a whiff of larva and shawnuff on a nearby plant would be a thick nasty green tomato caterpillar. Or above my head a colony of tent caterpillars would be weaving their hellish web of arboreal misery. And there, on the driveway, was a woolly bear caterpillar, least offensive of the lot simply because it had the misfortune of being run over by the car. My keen sense of smell protects me from these monsters.

Caterpillar ultimately comes to us from the Old French chatepelose, which literally translates to "hairy cat." You may remember cat from a previous hump but the second element is from the Latin pilosus, meaning "hair." The Italian surname Pelosi comes from this same Latin root. Has the House of Representatives been taken over by a caterpillar masquerading as a San Francisco liberal? Given the facts it seems plausible.

Judge caterpillars for yourself, but remember this;
Our word caterpillar is first recorded in English in 1440 in the form catyrpel. Catyr, the first part of catyrpel, may indicate the existence of an English word *cater, meaning "tomcat," otherwise attested only in caterwaul. Cater would be cognate with Middle High German kater and Dutch kater. The latter part of catyrpel seems to have become associated with the word piller, "plunderer"...[from AHD: emphasis mine]
See? Even our modern day spelling hints to the caterpillar's intrinsic malevolence. Madame Speaker (if that is your real name), I rest my case.

caterpillar [AHD]
caterpillar [Online Etymology Dictionary]
caterpillar [OED]
caterpillar [Wikipedia]
Italian surnames [Italy World Club]

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:: posted by David, 8:59 AM


I totally grok you.
Blogger Loocite, at 10:14 AM  

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