Any of numerous insects of the order or suborder Blattaria, having oval flat bodies and laying eggs in hardened cases, and including several species that are common household pests.
[By folk etymology from obsolete cacarootch, from Spanish cucaracha, from cuca, caterpillar.]
Word History: The English word cockroach comes from the Spanish cucaracha. An early English form of cockroach is found in the writings of Captain John Smith, the English adventurer who helped found the British colony of Virginia in 1607. In a work first published in 1624, Smith describes the insects on the islands of Bermuda: "Musketas and Flies are also too busie, with a certaine India Bug, called by the Spaniards a Cacarootch, the which creeping into Chests they eat and defile with their ill-sented dung." Smith's spelling of the Spanish word was perhaps influenced by caca, the word for "excrement" in the baby-talk of many European languages, including Spanish and English. Later the form taken by the Spanish word cucaracha in English was influenced by another word, cock, "rooster," and the modern form cockroach was born. (This phenomenon, the alteration of a word resulting from a mistaken assumption about its meaning, is called folk etymology by linguists.) The Spanish word cucaracha has nothing to do with roosters, however. It is thought to be related to cuca, a word for a common kind of moth caterpillar in Spain.
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2022 by HarperCollins Publishers. All rights reserved.
Indo-European & Semitic Roots Appendices
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