Saturday, March 20, 2010

Litter

Greg commented about the flexibility of the word litter. It has more than its share of meanings. It came from the Latin word lectus, which meant a bed. Next, it was used to indicate a substratum of materials (as in layers of rock).

Then it was a framework supporting a couch or bed to transport the sick or wounded. From there, it transferred to the materials used to make a bed—straw, rushes, etc. Eventually, it signified the straw scattered beneath animals to catch their dung.

Because of the connection to animals and their droppings, it was applied to the number of young brought forth at a single birth.

By the 18th century, it meant fragments and leavings sitting about—in other words, rubbish. It was then applied to the decomposing matter found on a forest floor above the soil. Finally, it was used to name the material found in a box to catch the waste matter of cats (kitty litter).

Available from McFarland & Co.: Word Parts Dictionary, 2nd edition


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