"exterminator" (was Re: "Cooty. Lousy..." "in the Great War")

Mark Mandel thnidu at GMAIL.COM
Sat Jul 11 01:39:20 UTC 2009

On Fri, Jul 10, 2009 at 12:05 PM, JohnPatrick <email1 at folklore.ms> wrote:

> Google books Oct. 1918 article on the "Cootie".... lice:
> *http://tinyurl.com/msfh8n

The first sentence of that article uses "exterminator" in the sense of
'pesticide', which is unfamiliar to me. The current main sense, in the US at
least, is 'a person who eradicates vermin'. I haven't examined usage, not
even with Google, but that's what people most often mean when they use the
word. American Heritage 3e captures this specialization of sense:

 * One that exterminates, especially one whose occupation is the
extermination of vermin.

I suppose the first NP, with 'that' instead of 'who', could be construed to
include pesticides, but the second is explicitly animate.

MW Online lists the word under "exterminate", which is tersely defined as

 * to get rid of completely usually by killing off <exterminate termites and

At least their example focuses on the usual sense.

OED Online does not mention vermin at all. The definition explicitly
includes animate and inanimate exterminators, but their victims are wholly

 * One who or that which exterminates, destroys, or puts an end to.
1611 COTGR., Exterminateur, an exterminator, banisher; destroyer. 1732 Hist.
Litt. III. 289 He made such a dreadful havoc of the Spaniards, that he was
very justly surnamed the Exterminator. 1858 BUCKLE Civiliz. (L.), Simon de
Montfort, the exterminator of the Albigenses.

The 1732 and 1858 citations refer to groups of people. 1611 is from a Fr-Eng
dictionary, and both the date and the synonyms suggest a derivation from
OED's obsolete sense 1 of the verb; the earliest cites of verb sense 2 are
from 1649 and 1651, forty years later.

 *1.* *trans.* To drive, force (a person or thing) *from*, *of*, *out
of*the boundaries or limits of (a place, region, community, state,
etc.); to
drive away, banish, put to flight. [cites 1541-1692]
  *2.* To destroy utterly, put an end to (persons or animals); now only, to
root out, extirpate (species, races, populations, sects, hence opinions,
etc.). [1649-1868]

Sense 2 of the verb approaches modern US use, but most of the animate
objects in the citations are human. Only the last, 1868, refers to
exterminating animals at all: "In the dawn of domestic agriculture, beasts
of prey..were exterminated."

Incidentally, the first OED cite for "exterminate", under sense 1, seems to
be adjectival or at least participial rather than the base form of the verb:
  - 1541 ELYOT Image Gov. (1549) 146 Oppression, extorcion..were out of the
citee of Rome..vtterly exterminate.

m a m

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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