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