Words To Remember Every 13 Years Or So

A vociferous buzz is radiating throughout parts of the United States and making the news. From the brilliant first light of day to the still and dark of night, a serenade is being sung – a mating call thirteen years in the making. Millions of cicadas have come up from their underground bedrooms after completing a very long incubation period. Unlike the annual cicada, this specific variety, labeled ‘Brood XIX,’ open their red-eyes, shed their skin, spread their wings, sing their song, eventually mate, and, like a Greek tragedy of the genus Tibicen kind, meet their death. All within a span of about two months.

There is no proper English word for the cicada.  The Classical Greek term is tettix and the Modern Greekis tzitzikas. The modern English term is derived from the Latin cicada meaning “buzzer.’ Like the Greek variations, the name is onomatopoeic. In other words, it is an imitation of a sound made by or associated with its referent – in this case the buzzing noise made when the male cicada vibrates certain membranes, or tymbals on its body – emitting a ‘love song’ that, to the ears of other species, sounds like a droning buzz. This process is called stridulation.

(What does onomatopoeia have to do with a bag of chips? Find out here.)

Stridulation is from the Latin stridulus meaning, “giving a shrill sound, creaking.”

The adult cicada is called an imago, the Latin term for “image.” Imago is also defined as “an idealized concept of a loved one, formed in childhood and retained unaltered in adult life.” A cicada nymph transforms into an imago by leaving its exoskeleton shell, a process called molting. In addition to their lovesick cry, the shell left behind after molting is the second most recognized signifier of cicadas.