Friday, October 10, 2008

Origin of the Name "Katydid"


katydid: Definition from
Word Origin: katydid

Origin: 1752

In the summer of 1743, Pennsylvania botanist John Bartram accompanied ambassador Conrad Weiser to peace negotiations with the Iroquois Indians in what is now New York State. Eight years later the journal of his trip was published in London as Observations on the Inhabitants, Climate, Soil, Rivers, Productions, Chemicals, and other matters worthy of Notice made by Mr. John Bartram in his travels from Pennsylvania to Onondaga, Oswego, and the Lake Ontario in Canada. That was in 1751. By 1752, therefore, copies were circulating in the American colonies, where the call of the a certain insect could be noted on page 70: "The great green grass-hopper began to sing (Catedidist) these were the first I observed this year."

Or was it chittediddle? That was Meriwether Lewis's spelling in his 1804 record of the Lewis and Clark expedition. The name has also been spelled kittledee, kittydid, and cataded, among others, in attempts to imitate the sound.

All those names have faded out, however, in favor of katydid for the simple reason that katydid is made up of familiar English words. As early as 1784, a travel writer remarked about "a very singular insect" on Long Island: "They are named by the inhabitants here Katy did's." Perhaps the grasshoppers were just having a monotonous conversation in English.

But if, in their conversation, all the katydids agree that "Katy did," it would seem unnecessary for them to discuss it at length. And all katydids don't sound alike, either. So that led to a tongue-in-cheek explanation: Some of the insects say "Katy did," others "Katy didn't." Neither side wins the argument, but it gives them an excuse to argue all night in the song we still hear all over the North American continent.

katydid: Definition from
Britannica Concise Encyclopedia: katydid

Fork-tailed bush katydid (Scudderia furcata).
(click to enlarge)
Fork-tailed bush katydid (Scudderia furcata). (credit: E.S. Ross)
Any of numerous species in several subfamilies of the long-horned grasshopper family (Tettigoniidae). Generally green with long wings, katydids live on trees, bushes, or grasses, and many species resemble leaves. They are powerful jumpers; many species do not fly but merely flutter their wings during leaps. They feed chiefly on plant matter, though some also eat other insects. The true katydids of eastern North America are considered great singers; each species has its own repetitive song, which is produced only at night.

1 comment:

spookydragonfly said...

Lona...this is such a pretty photo of your Mimosa tree!