"roach" = 'joint' butt--anything before 1938?

James A. Landau JJJRLandau at AOL.COM
Mon Nov 17 13:50:18 UTC 2003

In a message dated >  Sun, 16 Nov 2003 21:48:04 -0500,  "Douglas G. Wilson" <
> douglas at NB.NET> writes
> Most of the books seem to prefer derivation from the insect "[cock]roach".
> Chapman's slang dictionary gives additionally an alternative from "roach
> mane" meaning the short-cut ("roached") mane of a horse.
> I think the insect derivation is superficially plausible. I would consider
> derivation from "roach" referring to a [human's] hairdo as an alternative.

My understanding is that in Spanish the word "cucaracha" ("cockroach") is
also the slang term for marijuana, as in the well-known song about Pancho Villa
(quoted from memory)

      La cucaracha, la cucaracha                    The cockroach, the
      Ya no puede caminar                             No longer can travel
      Porque no tiene, porque le falta               Because he lacks,
because he needs
      Marijuana que fumar                               Marijuana to smoke

It must be noted that the above imagery does not say "cucaracha" = marijuana
but rather imagines an antromorphized insect smoking marijuana.

Every once in a while you have the pleasure of observing some ignorant Yanqui
referring to Mexico as "the exotic land of 'La Cucaracha'".

To me it is plausible that American slang "roach" = "marijuana cigarette"
comes from Spanish "cucaracha", but I have no evidence one way or the other.

      - Jim Landau

PS: on the subject of the first mondegreen, the eponymous "Lady Mondegreen"
appears (so to speak) in the Scottish ballad "The Bonnie Earl of Morey" which
describes the killing of the Earl of Morey (modern spelling is "Murray") in
1592.  I don't know when the ballad was composed, but being definitely a topical
ballad it may well date back to the 1590's.  There is no way to determine when
the first listener misinterpreted "and laid him on the green".

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