litter
Posted: 10 June 2019 05:22 AM   [ Ignore ]
Avatar
RankRankRank
Total Posts:  460
Joined  2007-02-24

I was curious how “litter” evolved from a term used for strewn trash into a group of babies produced by one cat or dog. Maybe it was a concept by some folks that animals were no better than trash. Then I find it was the other way around: The animals came before the trash.

Also, how does a stretcher becoming a litter? I can envision a scene in a movie where an ambulance driver asks his aide to get a litter and the aide comes back with an armful of kittens. 

Littering (n.)
1540s, of animals, “process of bringing forth young in a single birth,” verbal noun from present participle of litter (v.). Meaning “act of furnishing with bedding” is from c. 1600. That of “act of dropping disordered waste matter” is from 1900. - (from Online Etymology Dictionary)

https://www.etymonline.com/search?q=litter

So here I go again, thinking in terms of a graph-like evolutionary trail. How does a word evolve into what seems like a completely different thought or thing? At some point the idea of baby kittens turning into scattered trash seems to be quite a leap. What are the connections?

[ Edited: 10 June 2019 05:26 AM by Eyehawk ]
Profile
 
 
Posted: 10 June 2019 06:39 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
Administrator
Avatar
RankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  6738
Joined  2007-01-03

Litter comes to English from the Anglo-Normans lit(t)ere in the early 14th century. The original sense was a bed or a bed-like carriage hauled by humans. Think of nobles in medieval or classical times being taken around the city in litters.

In French, it could also have the sense of straw or other material that made up a bed, and this sense was also used for straw used as bedding material for animals in stables and barns. This sense appears in English in the early 15th century.

By the mid 15th century, the word was being used to refer to animals born among such straw or material.

Then in the 18th century, litter came to mean odds and ends strewn across the floor, like straw. This is where the trash and rubbish sense comes from.

The stretcher sense goes back to the original sense of a bed-like carriage.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 11 June 2019 01:35 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
Avatar
RankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  4141
Joined  2007-02-27

Very interesting

Profile
 
 
Posted: 11 June 2019 04:47 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
Avatar
RankRankRank
Total Posts:  460
Joined  2007-02-24

Yes, like a Jackson Pollack abstract.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 14 June 2019 02:24 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
RankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  1453
Joined  2007-04-28

When I was young my sister had a cat that dutifully crapped in a litter tray.

‘’absorbent material, typically in granular form, used to line a shallow receptacle in which a cat can urinate and defecate when indoors.’’

A litter box, sometimes called a sandbox, litter tray, cat pan, litter pan, or catbox, is an indoor feces and urine collection box for cats, as well as rabbits, ferrets, miniature pigs, small dogs (such as Beagles and Chihuahuas), and other pets that instinctively or through training will make use of such a repository

I had not known some breeds of dog could be trained to use them. This sense of litter sounds like an euphemism ie discarded trash/litter for shit?

Profile
 
 
Posted: 14 June 2019 05:39 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
RankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  1318
Joined  2007-03-01

This sense of litter sounds like an euphemism ie discarded trash/litter for shit?

No, not at all. Cat (or other animal) litter is the absorbent material you buy to spread out in the receptacle, not what the animals deposit thereon! It’s an adaptation of the ‘straw spread on stable and barn floors’ sense - it may not be bedding, but it absorbs the animal’s excreta, which is the main function of straw in stables. Horses quite rarely lie down in their stables to sleep on the straw, but I can tell you from hard personal experience that they almost always crap on it!

Profile