My son asked about this word, and I had no answer. Searching the web has turned up nada.

Please help!


litter - 13c., from Anglo-Fr. litere "portable bed," from O.Fr. litiere, from M.L. lectaria "litter" (altered in O.Fr. by influence of lit "bed"), from L. lectus "bed, couch." Meaning extended 15c. to "straw used for bedding," and "offspring of an animal at one birth" (in one bed); sense of "scattered oddments, disorderly debris" is first attested 1730, probably from M.E. verb literen "provide with bedding," with notion of strewing straw. Litterbug first recorded 1947.

Another source, ( suggests that it's a mimetic word formed in imitation of "jitterbug".

Thanks, AtoZ. I ran across those as well, but was hoping for some more info from a non-web source. Anyone else have any information?
Lewis Joplin II
LITTERBUG -- "'Litterbug,' meaning someone who habitually litters, is an anonymous coinage, probably based on firebug, dating back to the end of World War II. It owes its popularity to the Lakes and Hills Garden Club of Mount Dora, Florida, which used the slogan 'Don't be a litterbug!' in a 1950 roadside cleanup campaign."." From "The Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins" by Robert Hendrickson (Facts on File, New York, 1997). "litterbug n (1947) someone who litters public areas with discarded rubbish. Originally US. The mainly British equivalent 'litter lout' is first recorded in 1927. 1947 'New York Herald-Tribune': 47,000 subway 'litterbugs' pay $107,000 in fines in 1946 fines." From "20th Century Words: the Story of the New Words in English Over the Last Hundred Years" by John Ayto (Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1999)

Jitterbug/litterbug sounds like a good connection. When was the jitterbug popular?

Frank Pierce
Lewis, the Jitterbug came into widespread domestic use in the 1940's, as a dance form. Thus the Litterbug modification in the fifties makes good sense.

As I recall, a pneumatic air hammer was also called a jitterbug. Both the dance and the tool were in widespread use in the 40's. I don't know which came first. Either one could have given its common name to the other.

A quick trawl of the web yields the following -- the last of which offers a particularly interesting possibility.

"jitterbug - 1938, Amer.Eng., from Jitter bug, title of a song recorded by Cab Calloway in 1934. Related to jitters (pl.), 1925, Amer.Eng., perhaps an alteration of dial. chitter "tremble, shiver," from M.E. chittern 'to twitter, chatter.' Jittery is 1931, Amer.Eng."

New Harvard Dictionary of Music:

"In Harlem slang, a 'Jitterbug' is an alcoholic who experiences Delirium Tremens (violent shaking and hallucinations.) Those who did not care for the lively antics of the early Lindy Hoppers derided them as 'Jitterbugs.'"

Africa Update (Vol. IV, Issue 3 Summer 1997) is the quarterly newsletter of the Central Connecticut State University African Studies Program .

"From Mandinka, there are the words 'Jitterbug' linked to 'jito-bag' and describes a dance crazed person."

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