Ass and Name
Zola and Zoilus
A few Neos
What's in a Nem?
Pleo III-Two More Pleons
Achron.. and Acroam..
Per IV--Perpotation et al.
Per and Pre--Prevenient
Perpense and Perpend
Epi I--Epiplexis, et al.
The Doric Column
Epi III--Episemon et al.
Strident and Stridulation
Bill Long 10/16/04
This is my 66th essay on Words, including the Introduction page. If each is approximately 750 words (and most exceed that length), the essays so far add up to a "book" of about 200 pages. Diving into the OED, allied dictionaries and encyclopedias and the Internet has been a wonderful means for me to discover and rediscover the world. I have written these 66 essays between August 30, 2004 and today, and I would like to continue soon with another page entitled, appropriately enough, "More Words." I have found that focused attention on words, most of them not in common currency, has sharpened my perspectives on the world, given precision to my thoughts and made me also more able to articulate theoretical insights. That is, my ruminations on words have launched a new dimension in personal intellectual inquiry.
The word(s) for today originate in a few onomapoetic terms from Greek and Latin. The Latin root is "strido, stridere" meaning "to make a high-pitched, shrill, taut, etc. sound." The sound can be made by animals as they screech, by the friction of hard surfaces rubbing together or even by the effervescent sound caused by escaping steam. The OLD says that strido is onomatopoetic, like the Greek verb "trizo." "Trizo" may be defined as "uttering a shrill cry" and refer seither to the cry of birds or land animals. An onomatopoetic Greek similar to strid is a striks, an owl. The genitive singular of striks--strigos--(which is the root) beqeathed the word striga to the Latin to suggest an evil spirit supposed to howl in the night.* A shriek is like a striks, one must
[*A striga in Latin is also a "row or strip of anything." Latin also has stria, derived ultimately from the verb stringo, meaning "a groove, challel, furrow," and we have striate and its relatives in English as a result. Thus, as will be shown in a separate essay, English words for groove, strip or row can either begin with stria or strig.]
think, and the long "i" of trizo also stresses the shriek-like character of a bird or land animal's voice. Returning to Latin, the noun form of strido is stridor, the high-pitched sound, and the creature that makes the high-pitched sound is a stridulus.
Moving to English
We are most familiar with the Latin root strid coming into English in strident or stridency. The OED defines strident as "making a harsh, grating or creaking noise; loud and harsh, shrill." Normally it is used in connection with a human voice even though its origin is in the shriek-like call of birds and other animals. In this regard, to have a strident voice is different than having a stentorian voice. The latter is derived from a character, Stentor, in Homer (Iliad 5.85), "whose voice was as powerful as fifty voices of other men," and suggests only the volume of the voice; the former points to the tone of the voice. Strident seems stronger than insistent or even bothersome; it suggests a piercing, whistling, shrieking, harshly penetrative tone.
Some animals or insects stridulate. They emit a harsh, grating, or shrill noise. You can hear their stridulations on the Internet. For example, Professor Hickling of the University of Mississippi, has recorded four stridulous sounds made by the Black Fire Ants (Solenopsis richteri) in four different situations, one of which was when a microphone was plunged into their mound to hear what they sounded like.
Yet not all researchers are confident they can determine how these stridulations function. One web site explains the mechanism of stridulation by studying stag beetles (Lucanus cervus). The beetle is equipped with a stridulatory apparatus consisting of a pars stridens on the coxa or hip of the middle leg (three legs for our stag beetles) and the plectrum which is on the trochanter (one of the three leg bones) of the hind legs. The pars stridens comprises a series of oblong teeth while the plectrum consists of a series of ribs. When the beetle rubs these together, the sound which we associate with crickets, grasshoppers and cicadas is produced. As Dr. Eva Sprecher-Uebersax says, there is no unanimity on the function of stridulation in the stag beetle, though she does say "a function of defense, protection or orientation in the substrate is considered improbable." Perhaps it is for "expressing their claim of space" to the larvae and other creatures around.
What is interesting also about these ridges or furrows on the beetle is the name of the parts. A pars stridens is also the serrated surface on a gourd in the Puerto Rican musical instrument guiro. When this surface is scratched by scraper or "pua," a raspy noise is produced. the A plectrum is, in musical terms, the stick or pic with which an instrument is strummed. Thus, our stag beetle makes music through instruments it carries on its legs. John Updike has used the term: "The crickets stridulated their everlasting monotonous meaningful note."
Can Humans Stridulate?
But why confine the meaning only to insects? Can't we imagine humans "rubbing bodily parts together," as it were, and producing a sound that is grating and shrill? Can a stridulation also be something positive, a kind of inchoate, undefined noise coming from deep within that might express a range of emotions? A 17th century Puritan author talked about "high phrased bablings, Pharisaicall boastings and stridulencies."
Thus it seems that we could use the term and apply it to human noises in two ways: either as a more neutral term (such as stridulations appear to be in insects) simply to describe the fact of the sound--whether or not it is a protective device or expresses a range of human emotions such as anger, terror, jealousy or love; or in a negative and pejorative way, to focus on the babbling or loud nature of the exchange. In this regard one might dismiss one's opponents words not simply as political fulminations but as ineffectual stridulations.
Copyright © 2004-2010 William R. Long