In my other blog a few days ago I featured a plant with the scientific name Cimicifuga. I recognized that as botanical Latin for ‘makes bedbugs flee,’ with the first element coming from the Latin stem cimic- ‘bedbug.’ That noun evolved to Spanish chinche, which in addition to its literal sense has taken on the colloquial meaning of ‘an annoying, bothersome person.’ That sense is also conveyed by the adjective chinchoso and the verb chinchar, which means ‘to bother, to annoy.’

Spanish chinche has passed into English as chinch, a word found primarily in the South and Midland of the United States. The American Heritage Dictionary defines Midland as ‘A region of the United States whose northern border extends roughly from southern New Jersey to Illinois and whose southern border extends roughly from North Carolina to eastern Oklahoma, viewed especially as a dialect region of American English.’ That said, I remember growing up with chinch bugs (the phrase, not the insects) on Long Island.

Regional English chinchy, by the way, which means ‘stingy,’ is unrelated. It’s a variant of chintzy, which has its origins in the fabric from India known at chintz.

© 2016 Steven Schwartzman


5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. shoreacres
    Aug 31, 2016 @ 19:50:05

    When I first saw the title of your post, I didn’t have a clue about the word’s meaning. I only know ‘chinch’ when it’s combined with ‘bug,’ and I don’t remember hearing about the insect until I moved to the land of St. Augustine grass.

    We may not have had them in our lawns, but a paper associated with the Iowa Ag College (coincidentally, now the home of BugGuide) describes what a terrible pest it had become in the 1880s: being present in three-quarters of Iowa counties. I enjoyed this paragraph:

    “There is a general but mischievous impression among the farmers of
    this State, especially to the southward, that it is useless to contend against
    the Chinch Bug, and that its visitations must be received, like those of the
    drought and the tornado, as evils beyond our power to prevent or remedy.”

    Perhaps I didn’t meet chinch bugs as a kid because the researchers at Iowa State finally found their remedy.


  2. Maria F.
    Sep 07, 2016 @ 18:31:12

    Chinche is widely used here. It is also used for other insects as well. Beetle-like insects are also called chinches, such as Coreus marginatus (Chinche de las calabazas) or Nezara viridula (Chinche Verde), any insect that feeds on leaves, fruits, or sap is called chinche.


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©2011–2016 Steven Schwartzman
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